CALGARY — “When a guy like Barabanov, going down and eating that puck, that’s just goes to tell you how hard they want to win and how hard they’re still fighting for each other in there. And that’s important.”
That’s what head coach Bob Boughner took away from the San Jose Sharks’ stirring 4-3 comeback victory over the Pacific Division-leading Calgary Flames, their first post-Trade Deadline game.
Barabanov (94) actually blocked two shots in the “mayhem” – Boughner’s word – that James Reimer quelled with a glove save, no stick.
That no-quit spirit – the veteran goalie is the embodiment – that’s what you want to see out of the San Jose Sharks over the next month. That’s with or without Timo Meier, who was helped off the ice after a late injury.
Boughner, on Meier's injury: "I just saw him down the hall, putting a little weight on it. That's the only good news I could possibly say…They're doing a scan and some pictures just to double-check everything."
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) March 23, 2022
I’ve written about it before, and I’ll write about it again. A Sharks squad that doesn’t quit is a promising sign for the health of the franchise. And not just for Boughner, who’s going to miss the playoffs for a third-straight season, and his job security. The right mind-set suggests that the Sharks youngsters are growing and getting better, and the veterans are setting good examples.
The last three seasons have proven that the aging if still talented Sharks’ veteran core can’t carry the team to the playoffs by themselves – they’ll need more from their youngsters if they really want to get back in the playoff conversation next year.
And for one shift, they got it.
Boughner started the game with John Leonard-Logan Couture-Rudolfs Balcers as a line, but during the final frame, he promoted youngsters Noah Gregor and Sasha Chmelevski next to the captain.
“I didn’t like the way Cooch’s line, [his] wingers didn’t seem to have a lot of chemistry there,” the bench boss offered. “I liked Sasha’s game at center, but I wanted to see him at right wing. Noah adds some speed, so putting those guys together made sense.”
Tied at three apiece, the kids were alright.
How good was that play from the much-maligned Noah Gregor (73) to juggle the lob from Brent Burns (88)? You don’t see that type of zone entry everyday. How is Erik Gudbranson (44) supposed to defend that?
“When he uses his speed, he’s such an effective player,” Couture noted. “A lot of those chances, he created them with just using his speed.”
Gregor bulls into the much larger Gudbranson, forcing a turnover. Gregor can’t handle the Erik Karlsson (65) return pass, but then another Sharks youngster steps up.
Blake Coleman (20) on the wall wants to break it out to Dillon Dube (29), the speed coming up the middle. But Chmelevski (55), right place and right time, re-directs the Coleman pass to Gregor, who’s by himself in front of Jakob Markstrom. Couture (39) follows up with the eventual game-winner.
“He stepped in and gave us good minutes,” Couture said of Chmelevski. “Smart player.”
For his part, Chmelevski didn’t claim his skate-pass as quite intentional.
“I kind of took a little bit of a gamble,” he acknowledged, “and just had my stick and skate in the right spot and just kind of redirected it.”
By the way, Chmelevski, playing his first NHL game this year, is coming from another team that hasn’t quit on its season.
On Feb. 16, San Diego handed the Barracuda its seventh-straight loss, to drop the San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliate to a 14-26-1-0 record. Since then, the Cuda are 6-4-1-2.
Chmelevski actually credited that spurt for his call-up. The 23-year-old started the season with just one goal and four assists in his first 13 games, but since Feb. 16, had three goals and 12 assists in his last 13 AHL appearances.
“Those last seven games with the Cuda, we built a lot of chemistry and I think that’s the best is when the guys are having fun in the locker room and stuff like that,” he said. “The team comes closer together and everyone kind of thrives and plays better, and I definitely think my game took off.”
It’s a lost season for the San Jose Sharks: But can they find themselves in their youth to launch themselves into next year?
“We’re running those iPads up and down the bench all night, trying to talk to [the kids] after every shift and trying to help them out,” Boughner laughed. “Coming down the stretch, it’s putting young guys in and helping them out and developing them, but it’s [also] important for us that we have our big guys lead by example.”
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