In a hockey game, all the plays matter.
That was evident in the San Jose Sharks’ 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night.
Case in point, this Alexander Barabanov turnover early in the second period.
This is a pass that the skilled Barabanov (94) makes, what, 99 of 100 times? At the very least, you would expect him to not miss Rudolfs Balcers (92) by that much.
But it’s just one turnover, right? Who cares?
Yeah, that turnover mattered.
Not to pick solely on Barabanov – a lot went wrong on that back-breaking Auston Matthews (34) goal that made it 3-1, including Brent Burns (88) not corralling the initial Maple Leafs dump-in and Logan Couture (39) missing a chance to clear. In hockey, it’s every bit as much about how you recover from a mistake, it’s not just about the initial mistake.
But every play, good or bad, also branches off into other possibilities, good or bad. In some alternate universe, Barabanov hits Balcers in the neutral zone in stride, Balcers blows by the flat-footed Toronto defense and ties the game 2-2, and maybe we’re talking about another Sharks’ upset in this space.
But instead, we have San Jose Sharks captain Logan Couture offering this mea culpa.
“We were sloppy,” Couture said. “I’m sure that’s how it looked, that’s how it felt.”
It just felt, and full credit to the dominant Maple Leafs, but it felt like a contest where the Sharks just couldn’t do anything right, even the 99-of-100 plays. That’s nothing to do with Toronto, that’s a San Jose problem.
Here’s another example.
Radim Simek (51) actually does a nice job being patient with the puck up high, so he can make the play he wants. Jonah Gadjovich (42) is in outstanding position to take the pass and go downhill for a chance. This play, or something similar, is something you’d expect both players, neither who’s even considered the most skilled by NHL standards, to execute 99-of-100 times.
But instead, be it Simek’s short pass being too hard or Gadjovich’s blade not receiving it properly, the puck clanks off. And unlike the Barabanov mistake, there’s no chance to recover. It’s William Nylander (88) on the breakaway – and fitting for last night, it’s not the Sharks that save themselves, it’s a post.
It’s not always a play off the stick either. This is how the Sharks started the game.
A cheeky touch pass followed by a silky smooth finish. 😌
— NHL (@NHL) November 27, 2021
“We were in position. It was a three-on-three in the neutral zone. It wasn’t like we got caught. We just didn’t do the right thing tracking,” Boughner shared. “Our forwards are going to dictate the track so they could push them out of the middle the ice. Then we can get into our squeeze situation. We didn’t do that, we made a mistake. It’s in the back of the net.”
That’s youngster Noah Gregor (73) that needs to do a better job of directing traffic in what’s a three-on-three in the neutral zone. Instead of just doubling up on Morgan Rielly (44), he should be staying with John Tavares (91) coming up the gut so Jake Middleton (21) can concentrate on Nylander.
All the plays matter, especially for a San Jose Sharks squad that’s scrappy but offensively-challenged. The 21st-ranked goal-scoring squad isn’t outscoring their mistakes, so they can’t afford to make too many.
“We weren’t crisp tonight,” Boughner said. “You have to be to beat a team that’s on a roll like this.”
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