ANAHEIM, Calif. – We’re going streaking!
It took 24 games, but the San Jose Sharks have finally managed a two-game winning streak. Naturally, they’re the last team in the NHL to accomplish this feat, though it did take the Detroit Red Wings 23 games to do so this season.
Imagine telling the 2010-11 Sharks and Red Wings that this was their hockey future. But I digress…
Dubnyk Makes Difference
What a difference some goaltending makes.
You can’t tell by the 6-0 score, but this game was very much in the balance during the first 40 minutes. San Jose managed a 2-0 lead despite leaky defense – through two periods, the Sharks were being outshot 27-16.
Hertl on Dubnyk's save on Comtois on opening shift in 2nd period, then Kane coming back down the ice to make it 2-0 — instead of a tied game: "You need that from your goalie. It was a game-changer. He was our best player tonight."
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) March 13, 2021
Per Evolving Hockey, Devan Dubnyk’s 33-save shutout (+2.97 Goals Saved Above Expected) was the San Jose Sharks’ best regular season goaltending performance since Martin Jones stopped 39 of 40 Carolina Hurricanes shots (+3.15 GSAx) in Dec. 2018. I wouldn’t go that far – as I mentioned in my Game Notes, I don’t think the Ducks made Dubnyk go side to side a lot – but regardless, it was truly impactful work between the pipes.
It’s also just the second time this season that a San Jose netminder has registered a positive GSAx in consecutive games (Jones accomplished the feat with a +0.53 on Feb. 15 and a +0.43 on Feb.18).
“I think I’m getting there,” Dubnyk offered, when asked if he was playing his best hockey right now. “I was happy with the outcome with the St. Louis game. I just looked back at that game and felt like there was a good outcome, but I felt like there was some things with my stance and my movement that could be cleaned up a little bit. And it was exciting to be able to go out there tonight and kind of instantly feel the change, latch on to that.”
We’ll see if Dubnyk can go for three straight strong performances in a back-to-back tonight or Monday in Vegas.
“He looked real confident tonight,” Bob Boughner said. “You could almost feel it on the bench that he was in a bit of a zone. And I think we fed off that.”
While it’s not as important as finding stability in net, the San Jose Sharks also could stand to find some consistency at fourth-line center.
Behind Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, Dylan Gambrell has emerged as the clear-cut 3C. Gambrell might be better suited for a 4C role on a deeper team, but that’s neither here nor there.
But it’s been a carousel at fourth-line center: Off the top of my head, Joel Kellman, Patrick Marleau, Fredrik Handemark, Sasha Chmelevski, Noah Gregor, and Alexander True have all received spins there.
While to some degree, the wide-open competition at this position was intended, since San Jose wanted spots this year to be available for younger forwards, almost halfway into the season, nobody has really defined himself in the role.
That Marleau is arguably still the most complete centerman in this bunch – and Boughner’s usage of the 41-year-old suggests so – is telling. I remember asking about Marleau back to center in training camp as a lark – and here we are.
Last night, however, Handemark played a steady shift at fourth-line center, even early in the game when the result was in doubt. Marleau, who’s probably better suited for wing at this point in his career anyway, looked re-energized, and Kurtis Gabriel added energy and a legitimate element of intimidation (apart from fisticuffs).
Hertl, on Gabriel: "The D are scared, because he forechecks so hard." https://t.co/X5mdLjIy2G
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) March 13, 2021
You can argue that they were the Sharks’ most consistent line last night.
It’s just one game, but Handemark looked noticeably more attuned to the league’s pace last night, as opposed to his Jan. 18 NHL debut in St. Louis. Besides scoring his first goal, he had other quality chances, like the aforementioned look that Gabriel provided, and didn’t look out of sorts defensively. He looked like he belonged, which is faint praise, but a big step from St. Louis.
Before the season, I talked with scouts who were high on Handemark as at least a 4C. And of that cluster of centers above, I would’ve guessed then that Handemark would be the one to emerge too.
So it’s taken a little longer than expected, but maybe Handemark’s the one who will seize that very open fourth-line center job.
Many Happy Returns
Last night, Tomas Hertl came back from COVID-19, Timo Meier a lower-body injury, and Kevin Labanc a third period exodus on Monday. The San Jose Sharks were happy to have all of them back, each contributing a goal.
“I wasn’t expecting his legs to hold up like they did. I didn’t expect him to play as well as he did,” Boughner acknowledged of Hertl.
Hertl and Meier’s return also helping bring balance to the two power play units, which was looking top-heavy without them. From the last game, after Labanc was benched: “Sharks power play starts Balcers-Couture-Donato-Kane-Karlsson. Second unit: Leonard-Gambrell-Marleau-Blichfeld-Burns.”
That’s a perilous lack of depth, a problem that doesn’t look like it’s going to be addressed anytime soon, per Doug Wilson’s press conference yesterday.
But for one night, against a weaker opponent?
“It’s a big difference, especially offensively, when we got those big bodies [in Hertl and Meier],” Boughner said. “It sort of slots everybody else where they belong. I thought we looked like a good hockey team tonight.”
As for Labanc? “What we really liked about him was his wall play was improved,” Boughner offered. “We could see him with his nose down and working hard when he had to backcheck and track the puck. He got the message.”
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