By Matthew T.F. Harrington
If Bryan Lerg was disappointed by his demotion from the San Jose Sharks to their AHL affiliate the San Jose Barracuda, his play didn’t show it Wednesday night. The 28-year-old scored a goal and picked up the primary assist on another in the Barracuda’s 3-2 shootout loss to the unbeaten San Diego Gulls (3-0-0) at the SAP Center.
“Work hard,” said Lerg on his mind set heading in to his first game since being returned to the Barracuda (2-1-1). “We were looking for the win at home.”
“I thought (Lerg) was our best player by far,” assessed Barracuda coach Roy Sommer.
Lerg opened the scoring at the 5:11 into the first period, firing a shot from the slot into Gulls netminder John Gibson’s pads. The 6-foot-3 keeper made the initial save, but Lerg continued his course to the net to flip in his rebound for his 3rd goal of the season.
“I went to tee off on it and didn’t get all of it,” admitted Lerg. “The goalie tried to kick it to the corner and their D was flat footed. I beat them with my speed.”
The AHL vet added his first assist of the season with 1:20 remaining and the Barracuda on the penalty kill. Lerg pressured Gull rearguard Shane O’Brien at the red line, forcing a rushed O’Brien to spill to the ice. Lerg rushed up the ice on the breakaway, guiding a backhander to Gibson’s left in the Gull crease. Gibson made the sprawling save, put fellow penalty killer Scott Timmins jammed the loose puck home for his second goal of the season.
An unfortunate bounce led to a late San Diego goal with Barracuda defenseman Mark Cundari deflecting a Brandon Montour point shot around San Jose goalie Troy Grosenick. The goal, a power play strike with 5.4 seconds left in the period, marked the 4th goal in 14 short-handed situations for San Jose.
The Gulls scored again on the power play in the 2nd period, this time on a deflection from a San Diego skater. Defenseman Shea Theodore ripped a point shot on net. Gulls pest Harry Zolnierczyk was skating past Grosenick right as the shot came and managed to tip it over his blocker side for the goal at the 6:26 mark. The 2-2 deadlock would hold through the third period and into a back-and-forth three-on-three overtime despite a total of 5 power plays for the Gulls on the night.
“That’s a pretty good team over there,” said Sommer. “They have lots of veteran guys who have been around and know how to put the puck in the net.”
The Gulls’ Nick Ritchie and Stefan Noesen would beat Grosenick in the skills competition to earn the second point for the visitors, keeping their record unblemished. Gibson turned away attempts by Lerg and Nikolai Goldobin, another player returned by the Sharks this morning.
One player hoping to join the Sharks sooner rather than later, rehabbing forward Melker Karlsson, saw his first time on ice this season. Karlsson finished the night with an assist and a +1 rating while nearly scoring in 3-on-3 overtime.
“He was good,” said Lerg, who joined Karlsson in the 3-on-3 session. “I thought he played well. He’s getting back into the swing of things. It was his first game in a while. We tried to keep it simple and get him in deep and use our speed.”
Once the thrill of returning to the ice wore off, Karlsson realized he still has some work to put in before he is ready for an NHL assignment.
“It felt pretty good in the beginning,” said Karlsson. “But my conditioning is not where it should be. With my game, I have to have energy for it to work.”
“We’ll see how long it takes before I get in condition,” said Karlsson. “It shouldn’t be too long, just a few practices them I’m going to feel good.”
Whether it’s next week against the Nashville Predators or further down the line, Karlsson is ready to return to the top tier.
“That’s where you want to play,” said Karlsson. “That’s where I’m going to play later I hope.”
With the injuries stacking up for the parent club, the Barracuda bench boss acknowledges call-ups may be early and often in the next few days.
“Any one that is playing here right now knows,” said Sommer. “They’re banged up up top. You play good you’re probably playing against LA tomorrow. We want guys to realize that.”