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Quick Thoughts: We’re Going Streaking, Dubnyk Makes Difference

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Credit: NBCS Bay Area

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.

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.”

Fourth-Line Stability

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).

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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David Gotlieb

I think the most useful thing Bob could do at this point is just roll 4 lines. Stop caring about the game state, just roll 4 lines. Don’t think, “we’re not trying to win” think, “the only way for us to win is with all of these guys playing their best.” It’s the best thing for the long term chances of this team, rotating through 4th line Cs at 6 minute a night does nothing to let you or the players establish themselves. Will you end up with True playing against MacKinnon occasionally sure. Who cares we’re not going to… Read more »

Zeke

Yup. It’s a development year. So let’s extend the thought to the d-men, too. Use Burns and EK65 22 minutes a night, not 26-27. They’ll be better while Simek, Ferraro and Knishov will get the sort of minutes they need. And if Merkley or some other ‘Cuda d-man comes up, you can give Vlasic a night off.

Zeke

Against one of the league’s worst teams missing several useful players (mostly Lindholm, but also Manson, Rowney). Beyond Dubnyk and EK65 looking like EK65 again, I’m not sure there’s much to read into this game. One thing I’ve been critical of EK65 for, he makes a lot of highlight moves which have poor risk/reward. The penalty he drew in the first period was a case of EK65 using his ability in a good risk reward situation. He had support behind him so if something went wrong, its not likely to give up a high-grade scoring chance. And if it went… Read more »

david barnard

Claesson and Meloche were a good third pair.

[…] I noted that the San Jose Sharks were the last team in the NHL to achieve a two-game winning streak. Good news? 25 Sharks games into the year, there are still five teams that haven’t enjoyed a […]

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