Brent Burns called the San Jose Sharks’ 5-4 shootout victory over the Anaheim Ducks “a tale of three periods.”
He might as well have just called it a tale of three Sharks teams.
“You like the start. You hate the second. You like the response,” Burns said.
In the opening frame, per Natural Stat Trick, San Jose raced out to an 8-1 High-Danger Corsi For edge. It was the start that dreams are made of:
In the second period, however, the Sharks surrendered three goals in 8:19. Burns called it “brutal”:
Down 3-1, between periods, Bob Boughner apparently laid into his players.
“We got challenged by our coaches, between the second and the third. We kind of challenged each other. We knew that wasn’t good enough,” Logan Couture acknowledged. “It’s tough it had to come to that, to getting yelled at a little bit between the second and the third, but sometimes you need that.”
Boughner offered: “There was a lot said. I was upset with the guys; they were upset with themselves. Your character’s in question there.”
To San Jose’s credit, they did respond: Couture and Evander Kane tied it up two minutes into the final frame, and they pulled it out in the shootout.
There are three Sharks squads and that’s why they’re just 4-5-0. They have good – they authored a fantastic third period against the Blues on Jan. 20. They have bad – they were outclassed by the Avs 7-3 on Jan. 26. And they have been responding: The Jan. 20 victory in St. Louis came off the heels of a poor 5-on-5 performance in the previous contest.
Which Sharks’ team emerges most – there will be a struggle between three sides all season – will tell the tale of the season.
Boughner said volumes with how he doled out playing time in the third period.
3rd period shifts tell a story: Burns 12, Karlsson/Ferraro 11, Simek 9, Vlasic 5, Knyzhov 4
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“I obviously wasn’t happy with the personnel back there on a couple goals,” he said of his defense’s second period efforts. “We were just playing the guys who were going.”
In terms of shift count, it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic (44) who bore the brunt of Boughner’s ire. Specifically, on Adam Henrique’s (14) goal, Vlasic failed to corral Henrique’s stick on the rebound.
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Then, on the Maxime Comtois goal, Vlasic had the puck to himself in the corner and literally passed it to nobody. I’m sure Vlasic thought Burns (88) would be there to receive the pass, but regardless, it’s an unforced error.
This calls to question what Boughner’s next step is with Vlasic. The 33-year-old has struggled for most of the season.
Over the last week, we started getting a sense that a change might be coming to the defensive pairings. As I wrote in my game preview:
Speaking of changes, Boughner also intimated earlier this week that his top-four defensive pairings might change soon. He hasn’t been thrilled with the results from Mario Ferraro-Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Brent Burns.
“It’s been up and down, to be honest,” Boughner admitted. “As we get into some home games, maybe you’ll see the switch back to a Mario and Burns playing against the other team’s top lines.”
So this Southern California road swing will be a litmus test for the current pairings.
It’s interesting to note that a reunited Ferraro-Burns was offered as the “shutdown” pairing. Last season, when Boughner took over for Peter DeBoer, he leaned on Vlasic-Karlsson as his go-to pairing at home in the defensive zone and against the top lines. Does this represent a sea change in his philosophy, an admission of the decline in Vlasic and/or Karlsson’s game?
And that’s how Boughner started the third period: Ferraro-Burns. Then Karlsson cycled through Radim Simek, Vlasic, and Nikolai Knyzhov, but mostly Simek.
The obvious move would simply be to promote Simek with Karlsson. Simek has played top-four minutes before and his physicality and urgency, when healthy, could strike the right balance with Karlsson’s finesse.
Vlasic then, could slide down with Knyzhov. It’s a good place to shelter the proud veteran, while letting him help on the penalty kill, where he still excels. For what it’s worth, Peter DeBoer did something similar two years ago, when he paired Vlasic with Tim Heed late in the season. Vlasic responded with a turn-back-the-clock playoffs.
Boughner shared: “[The defensive pairings tomorrow are] probably not going to be the way we started tonight.”
Counting third period shifts didn’t just tell a story about the back-end: Tomas Hertl played a surprisingly-low five shifts.
The final count: Dylan Gambrell 10, Couture 9, Kane 8, Kevin Labanc/Noah Gregor/Marcus Sorensen/Matt Nieto 7, Hertl/Patrick Marleau/Timo Meier/Ryan Donato 5, Sasha Chmelevski 1.
First, wow, Gambrell. Boughner also added, of the other forwards, “Niets and Marcus played really well together. Sasha played very well at the beginning of the game. Game caught up a little bit to him in certain situations. Gregor generated a lot of speed tonight.”
Couture also added about Kane’s work: “Tremendous. First shift, he’s so fast, so powerful.”
He was talking about the shift that led to the Couture goal:
What a shift from Couture: Flip pass to Kane, Kane wins race, then Couture beats Deslauriers to loose puck. Burns & Ferraro back together
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) February 6, 2021
Couture then gushed about Kane’s short-handed strike, which tied the game 3-3: “He’s got a good-enough shot to beat elite goaltenders from a distance. Gibson is one of the elite goalies in the league. To beat him from a distance without a screen is a great shot.”
But back to Hertl.
“I didn’t like Hertl’s line again,” Boughner said. It’s also worth noting the lesser number of shifts that Meier played.
Even though Vlasic’s play might be the lowlight of the night, it’s Hertl’s continued up-and-down play that is most troubling for the San Jose Sharks’ long-term chances. Simek, after all, could potentially cover for Vlasic. The Sharks have nobody up the middle who can make close to a Hertl-like impact.
“We’re trying to get everybody going at the same time,” Boughner said for what seemed like the umpteenth time this year.
That can happen without Vlasic, but it won’t happen without Hertl.
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