“We’ve got 11 guys under 50 games in the line-up tonight,” Nick Bonino noted after the San Jose Sharks’ 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets.
That’s John Leonard and Jaycob Megna (49 NHL games), Alexander Barabanov (30), Lane Pederson (26), Jonathan Dahlen and Nicolas Meloche and Jasper Weatherby (13), Jonah Gadjovich (8), Nick Merkley and Ryan Merkley (6), and Santeri Hatakka (5).
Somehow, this motley crew has gone 3-2-1 since Oct. 30, when seven San Jose Sharks were placed in COVID protocol and five Barracuda players were recalled.
The Legion of Substitute Sharks’ day in the sun is over though: San Jose expects to be fully healthy on Friday in Denver, in advance of the next night’s match-up versus the Colorado Avalanche.
But it was an unforgettable run – here are some history-making stats from the last two weeks:
• 11 skaters under 50 games, how remarkable is that? Get this, the San Jose Sharks have never been that inexperienced in franchise history. The closest: The 1992-93 Sharks trotted out the same eight skaters with under 50 games in consecutive games on Dec. 10 and 12, 1992. Rob Gaudreau, Pat MacLeod, Sandis Ozolinsh, Tom Pederson, Michel Picard, Claudio Scremin, Ray Whitney, and Doug Zmolek didn’t have this team’s success: They lost both contests, in the midst of a 13-game losing streak.
• They say defense is a harder position to learn than forward, and that’s underscored by how rarely the San Jose Sharks have debuted two NHL defensemen on the same night. Of course, they were forced to do that with Ryan Merkley and Hatakka on Oct. 30. The last time they did that? Oct. 6, 1993, when the Sharks introduced Vlastimil Kroupa and Michal Sykora to the big leagues at Edmonton. And the only other time that San Jose gave two blueliners their first NHL games in the same contest? Oct. 8, 1992, Ozolinsh and Zmolek, versus Winnipeg at the Cow Palace.
• You would think the four defensemen with under 50 games NHL experience that the Sharks have been used in their last six games – Megna, Meloche, Merkley, Hatakka or Artemi Kniazev – would constitute a franchise record. Not so – in the aforementioned Dec. 1992 games, when San Jose was pressed into relying on eight skaters under 50 games, five were blueliners, MacLeod, Ozolinsh, Pederson, Scremin, and Zmolek.
So I guess this year’s San Jose Sharks got off lucky?
No-nino No-nino No-nino
Nick Bonino has had worse slumps.
It’s now 13 games and counting without a point for the San Jose Sharks’ prized free agent signing. Even a move to wing alongside center Logan Couture and Jonathan Dahlen during the last three games hasn’t got Bonino onto the scoresheet.
“I can’t remember the last slump I’ve had like this,” the 33-year-old acknowledged.
It’s a good thing that he’s forgotten 2010-11. Bonino, in his second NHL season, but still technically a rookie, endured not just a scoreless stretch, but a scoreless season. The 22-year-old, shuttling back and forth between the Anaheim Ducks and then-AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch, didn’t have a point in 26 games.
Bonino, of course, hadn’t established himself as an NHL player yet. Since that time, roughly 2012-13, this 13-game drought is Bonino’s worst slump, surpassing 12 straight in 2018-19.
An aside about Bonino: His career track is a reminder that youngsters don’t always make an immediate impact. From 2009-12, shared between the NHL, AHL, and Boston University, Bonino notched just 20 points in 85 contests with the big club. It wasn’t until his fourth NHL season that the 24-year-old cemented his place in the league with 13 points in 27 games in lockout-shortened 2012-13. The following year, for the first and only time in his career, he potted over 20 goals in a season. By 2017, he was a back-to-back Stanley Cup champion.
The point: There are some talented San Jose Sharks prospects in John Leonard and Noah Gregor, to name a couple, who have failed to make an instant NHL impact. Don’t give up on them yet.
The same could be said for Bonino now.
The pedigree is there. The will is there. So’s the track record.
The San Jose Sharks aren’t asking Bonino (13) to carry them either, at least not offensively. They will need stauncher defense from him than he was able to muster on Kyle Connor (81) last night.
But by and large, Bonino has been responsible defensively, and on the doorstep offensively.
“I feel like I’m doing the right things, playing the right way, helping the team but it’s pretty frustrating to not produce for the guys. Just searching for that point. They usually get you on the right track,” he lamented. “When I shoot, it doesn’t go in. When I pass to someone, it doesn’t go in. No bounces, nothing.”
The Sharks, anyway, don’t seem to have a choice but to count on Bonino. If he doesn’t get going, then they may not have a legitimate third-line center option anywhere in the organization.
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