“We believe we can still make it into playoffs.”
Just like Logan Couture was roasted online for saying something similar a week ago, some San Jose Sharks fans were quick to jump on Timo Meier for his optimism after the Sharks blew out the Kings 5-0 last night.
Even after the win, San Jose is nine points behind the Vegas Golden Knights, with 24 games to go, for the last wild card berth in the West.
But what else would you expect, an athlete, a competitor like Meier (or Couture) to say?
Reality is reality, but you don’t want guys on your team who have packed it in with more than a quarter of the season left.
Especially when there’s still a lot to play for, for so many of the Sharks.
“There’s still a lot on the line,” San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner said. “There’s a lot of guys vying for contracts next year. There’s guys looking to secure spots and earn trust of the coaching staff. Guys looking to take bigger roles on this team.”
So it’s encouraging to see how the team has responded after getting humiliated by Nashville 8-0 last Saturday. They’ve grabbed five of the last six points, and still appear to be a team that’s playing for each other and their coach.
Meier cited a team meeting after the loss the Predators as something of a turning point: “We believe in each other. Sometimes, you gotta be honest. We had a chat with each other as a team. Teams are going to go through this. It’s important that it gets you together, tighter, better.”
Obviously, getting regulars like Erik Karlsson, Jonathan Dahlen, Jaycob Megna, and Adin Hill back in the line-up has helped too.
But going back to what Boughner pointed out about next year: There’s 24 games left for unproven-but-talented youngsters like Dahlen and Hill and Scott Reedy and company to show that they’re part of the solution going forward for the San Jose Sharks.
These are the stories to root for – and not better lottery odds.
Boughner has been hard on Dahlen since the All-Star break, dropping him to the fourth line and healthy scratching him. The rookie has responded since his return on Thursday from a concussion, and not just on the scoresheet.
“The one problem I had with his game [recently] was he wasn’t winning enough puck battles in the offensive zone and turning enough pucks over,” Boughner noted. “Tonight, after the first period, we were 80% as a team on our shot recoveries. He had a bunch of those. I thought that’s where his game’s at its best when he’s digging and he got rewarded.”
Boughner is talking about a hunger for the puck, and on that shift, just Dahlen’s second of the game, the winger showed plenty of it.
Four plays stood out: Dahlen (76) getting his stick free from Jordan Spence (53) at just the right time for the deflection (00:03), the ensuing puck recovery, digging to keep the puck alive in the high slot (00:23), and getting in position for the tap-in (00:28).
Dahlen certainly wasn’t coasting here, he was constantly working, always dangerous. If he keeps that up, and continues to add some finish on top of that, he’s going to be a player you win with and enjoy a long NHL career.
Speaking of having something to prove, there might be no San Jose Sharks player with more to prove from now to the end of the season than Adin Hill.
The Sharks traded a second-round pick and Josef Korenar to the Arizona Coyotes for Hill and a seventh-round pick in the summer, with the hopes that the inexperienced Hill would grab the starting reins. Instead, between injuries and inconsistent play, the 25-year-old has been outperformed by veteran James Reimer.
Underscoring that point, per Evolving Hockey, Reimer is 15th in the NHL (of 48 qualified goalies) with a +4.56 Goals Saved Above Expected, while Hill is 38th with a -9.04 GSAx. This stat estimates how many goals that a netminder stops more or less than the average goalie.
But in his first start since Jan. 20, Hill showed why he still might justify the serious investment that Doug Wilson, Evgeni Nabokov, and company made in him. He’s got one season left in the two-year contract that he inked over the summer, by the way.
It was still 2-0 when Hill stoned Quinton Byfield (55) with elite athleticism for a big man.
“He’s had his ups and downs throughout the season. When he’s been good, he’s been really good,” Boughner observed. “Like any goalie, it’s finding his way in this league, trying to find that consistency and be a No. 1 guy.”
In his two previous NHL stints in November and January, rookie Scott Reedy didn’t flash much “really good.” And that’s okay – he’s just 22, and plenty of youngsters are overwhelmed by their first taste of the big show.
But since his recall on Feb. 27, Reedy looks like he’s starting to get more comfortable at this level.
Reedy (54) makes small plays here, but they show a growing confidence, an improving pace, from the nifty pass to Timo Meier (28) under pressure to how he handles the rim behind the from Meier and bounces a perfect pass to Erik Karlsson (65) at the point.
Dahlen, Hill, and Reedy are each trying to prove something different – Dahlen wants to demonstrate that he’s a legitimate top-six forward, Hill that he’s a true No. 1 goalie, Reedy that he belongs in the league – but what they have in common?
These next 24 games matter to them. And if any of these youngsters – from Dahlen to Nicolas Meloche to healthy scratch Noah Gregor to just-demoted Ryan Merkley really begin to emerge as winning NHL players in this time – these next 24 games will likely matter a lot to the next San Jose Sharks’ playoff team, be it next season or a couple years down the line.
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