WASHINGTON — There were many happy returns for the San Jose Sharks in their 3-1 victory over the Washington Capitals last night.
Obviously, a return to the win column after back-to-back disappointing losses. James Reimer’s return to form. Noah Gregor, Jonathan Dahlen, and Andrew Cogliano’s return to scoring goals. The team defense’s return to stopping goals.
Let’s start with Reimer, who was arguably the NHL’s best goalie through Christmas with a second-in-the-league .936 Save %, and before the drop of the puck, arguably the NHL’s worst goalie since Christmas with a league-worst .849 Save % (5+ starts).
These are numbers that would make even Jarmo Myllys blush: To go along with that .849, Reimer had been pulled three times and sported a 5.74 Goals Against Average.
“He was our first star,” San Jose Sharks head coach said of his winning netminder, who turned away 32 of 33 shots, including eight from Alexander Ovechkin.
“Unfortunately, I’ve played him a bunch,” Reimer quipped. “I spent most of my career in the Eastern Conference.”
For what it’s worth, it’s been 276 goals since the last time that Ovechkin beat Reimer on Nov. 7, 2015. Reimer has given up six goals, all as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, of Ovechkin’s current 759, .
Anyway, with Adin Hill out with a day-to-day lower-body injury — from what I understand, Hill is on this trip, so hopefully, he’s back soon — and the Sharks without top defenseman Erik Karlsson for about the next two months, they’ll need their goalie to steal a game from time to time. It was Reim Time tonight.
Meanwhile, it was about time for Gregor, who potted just his second goal in 27 games this season. Dahlen scored his first since Dec. 9 and Cogliano netted his first since Dec. 16.
This could be pivotal for Gregor and Dahlen, who have received consistent scoring line minutes all season for the goal-starved Sharks.
“Hopefully,” Gregor offered, “tonight starts something for me.”
Some secondary scoring would go a long way to make up for Karlsson’s absence.
Finally, let’s talk how the San Jose Sharks locked things down defensively 5-on-5 after the Daniel Sprong strike 14 seconds into the final frame made it a one-goal contest. Per Natural Stat Trick, after the Sprong goal, the Sharks gave up just five 5-on-5 shots.
“We just stayed tight in the middle of the zone, and we let them play outside,” said game-winner Nicolas Meloche.
Ideally, Evgeny Kuznetsov (92) wouldn’t be able to push back the second layer of the San Jose Sharks forecheck (Logan Couture, Timo Meier) like that in the neutral zone, but concentrate on what happens once Ovechkin (8) gains the zone and drops off to Tom Wilson (43).
Meloche (53) keeps Wilson to the outside, Couture (39) switches onto Ovechkin, and Jaycob Megna (24) has Kuznetsov accounted for. Meloche blocks Wilson’s attempt, a good example of bend-don’t-break defense.
Here’s a better example of how the San Jose Sharks want to defend:
Marc-Edouard Vlasic (44) stands in front of Ovechkin and prevents a hand-off to the speeding Kuznetsov — the Sharks like their defensemen to defend aggressively up ice — Meier (28) grabs the puck, and Couture fires a harmless shot that earns San Jose an OZ faceoff.
This was a nice Sharks territory win.
So how do you make up for the loss of Erik Karlsson? It’s not necessarily to score — Karlsson’s offensive talents are inimitable — it’s defend, defend, defend. Not everybody can be Karlsson — but everybody can give an honest defensive effort. And yes, good defense leads to good offense:
Man to man, Cogliano (11) stays with Carl Hagelin (62).
Then, Meier is in the right place, right time to intercept the Garnet Hathaway (21) drop pass.
And just as we counted the San Jose Sharks out…they pull us back in.
Every time we've counted #SJSharks out for dead this year, they've fought back
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) January 27, 2022
Do they have another upset in them on this harrowing road trip? Atlantic-leading Florida, Cup contender Carolina, and defending champ Tampa Bay await.
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