Mario Ferraro is continuing where he left off.
Ferraro emerged as the San Jose Sharks’ third most-used defenseman last season (22:26), eclipsing veteran Marc-Edouard Vlasic, among others, in just his second NHL year.
This season, Ferraro (24:30) is leaping past veteran Erik Karlsson (21:35), trailing just partner Brent Burns (26:42) for the mantle of the Sharks’ No. 1 defenseman.
Last night, Ferraro played more than even Burns in a 5-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres – the 23-year-old skated a career-high 28:48. His previous career-high was 27:32 two weeks ago in Boston.
“[Defensive coach] John Madden has full confidence in him, putting him out and using him in all different situations,” acting head coach John MacLean shared. “His energy is so contagious that the other guys pick up off that and feed off that.”
Where would the San Jose Sharks, as a franchise, be without the surprising Ferraro? With ex-Olympian Vlasic’s decline to bottom-pairing blueliner, someone needed to tackle a heavier defensive load.
These days, it’s hard to imagine Vlasic or a Radim Simek playing over 20 minutes a night — but that’s what they might be doing without Ferraro’s emergence as a legitimate top-four rearguard.
“He’s a great skater. He works so hard all over the ice. He’s easy to play with,” Logan Couture said. “So happy he’s a Shark.”
Not Just a One-Line Team?
Last week, we were talking about the San Jose Sharks being a one-line team, driven by the Logan Couture, Timo Meier, and Jonathan Dahlen trio.
Yesterday afternoon, with Meier being added to COVID protocol, we were talking about what the Sharks were going to do without their likely Team MVP so far.
Tomas Hertl, however, put the Sharks on his back last night with two highlight-reel goals. Equally intriguing – we know the 2020 All-Star can do this –it’s the strong play of Hertl’s wingers, Alexander Barabanov and Rudolfs Balcers.
I highlighted Barabanov’s return to prominence on Saturday after a slow start to the season:
It’s back-to-back exemplary performances from the Russian winger.
As for Balcers, he racked up two assists, and according to Natural Stat Trick, led San Jose with four 5-on-5 Scoring Chances. Per SPORTLOGiQ, he also led the squad with 00:30 OZ Possession Time. These were the winger’s first points since opening night.
If Balcers – 17 points in 41 games last year – and Barabanov – 7 points in nine games – can recapture that type of form this season, the San Jose Sharks can potentially field three legitimate scoring lines when healthy. Meier, Kevin Labanc Jonathan Dahlen, William Eklund, Balcers, and Barabanov could just cut it as a playoff-caliber group of top-nine wingers.
“Rudy was really good. Tommy was good obviously. Barb’s made some nifty plays in tight,” Couture noted.
“For my line, a little more is expected,” Hertl said. “I think in the last three or four games, [we’ve been] way better.”
A Good Defensive Team?
Perhaps the most encouraging and hopefully sustainable element about the San Jose Sharks’ back-to-back victories, despite being short-handed? How well they’ve defended.
According to SPORTLOGiQ, with 2/3 of their blueline in COVID protocol, the Sharks have held a 30-10 Slot Shots on Net advantage, All Situations, over Winnipeg and Buffalo. That’s remarkable.
But what’s promising is that it hasn’t been just a two-game thing. By and large, San Jose has defended well at 5-on-5 this year, which is not something that you could’ve said with a straight face in the prior two seasons.
The San Jose Sharks entered last night in the top-11 in eight key SPORTLOGiQ team defense stats, including seventh in Slot Shots Against, fifth in Inner Slot Shots Against, second in OZ Possession Time Against, and sixth in Quality Chances Against.
“The D has been doing a good job keeping everybody to the outside, working in cohesion as they go back. The forwards [have been] backchecking so hard,” MacLean said. “That’s something we always want them to do, and maybe it’s a little bit more noticeable now because guys are relishing this opportunity to play hard, backs against the wall.”
If this holds – I think the San Jose Sharks are going to the playoffs.
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