Vegas Golden Knights right wing Keegan Kolesar scores, right, is congratulated by left wing William Carrier (28) as the San Jose Sharks goaltender Alexei Melnchuk is spread eagle in front of the net (AP News photo)
By Matthew Harrington
It was a forgettable ending to a forgettable season for the San Jose Sharks, falling to the Vegas Golden Knights 6-0 at home. Marc-Andre Fleury shut out the Sharks on just 19 shots, Dylan Sikura scored a pair, and Alex Pietrangelo, Keegan Kolesar, William Carrier and Jonathan Marchessault all scored for the Golden Knights. Vegas finishes their season 82 points( including sweeping the season series against San Jose), sitting two points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche for the President’s Trophy with one game remaining for general manager Joe Sakic’s team. San Jose has missed the postseason for a second consecutive season after missing out on the expanded Bubble playoffs last season, not necessarily an unexpected result, but disappointing nonetheless.
“This organization had to take a step back to take a step forward,” said Sharks coach Bob Boughner when asked to reflect on the season. “I know that’s a bit of a cliché but that’s the absolute truth. There was a path set out early on, that started last year at the trade deadline, last hockey season. We had to live through it this year. I really believe moving forward it will be a different situation, a different set of expectations.”
The Sharks finish the season with 49 points and a 21-28-7 record, 11 points shy of the St. Louis Blues (who could add still with a game remaining on their schedule) for the last playoff spot in the West Division. While the loss brings finality to a difficult season, most questions about the team’s future remain.
“We talked about our journey and where we need to be in September when we come back to work,” said Boughner. “I talked about the young guys getting the opportunities and not expecting a job when they get back to camp. They’ve got to earn it again. The veterans, the last message I sent was ‘We can’t get anywhere as an organization if those players aren’t our best players every night. That didn’t happen every night this season.”
Wednesday night Patrick Marleau played 13:01 in the final game of his 23rd season. He finished the year with 9 points in 56 games, another season without missing a game. He played the central role in the Sharks greatest achievement on the season, appearing in career game 1,767 to match Gordie Howe for all-time games played April 17th in Minnesota.
He broke the record the following Monday in Sin City. He was on a one-year contract and hasn’t hinted if he’ll return at age 42 to add on to his 910-game Iron Man streak. If not, the Sharks 2nd overall selection in 1997 would walk away from the game with 522 goals and 589 assists over 21 seasons with the Sharks and career totals of 566 goals and 631 helpers when you add in his stints with Toronto and Pittsburgh, a surefire Hall of Fame career
Who will the expansion Seattle Kraken take in their player selection draft in the offseason? The favorite is Brent Burns who wrapped up his season with a -2 over 22:49 of ice time. He finished the season with 29 points (7g, 22a) over 56 games. He has 540 points over 715 games in teal.
Even the Sharks best player, Evander Kane, has a murky future. There has been talk about nullifying his contract mutually as he works through bankruptcy. He finished the campagin with 22 goals and 27 assists (matching a career high) and would have surely eclipsed his best single-season totals in a full-length campaign.
Alexei Melnichuk made 38 saves in just his second career NHL start. The import from the KHL Melnichuk with the Barracuda. Who will join Martin Jones at the NHL level will be the question in net, or rather one of the questions. If Jones returns or is bought out remains to be seen. He went 15-14-4 with a 3,27 GAA bolstered by a hot stretch in January where he looked like the goaltender the Sharks bet on for six years, $34.5 million for the 2018 season.
Among the bright spots for the Sharks is the fact that only one player missed time for a positive Covid-19 case in a year when teams saw their whole year derailed by widespread cases. This despite opening the year with training camp in Arizona with County health officers not permitting professional sports in Santa Clara until right around the Sharks delayed (by Covid, of course) home opener.
Also noteworthy were the jumps that second year pro Mario Ferraro and rookie Nikolai Knyzhov made on defense. Both were asked to represent their respective countries in this month’s world championships, though Knyzhov will miss it as he goes under the knife for a sports hernia. An offseason of more advancements by the young players mentioned above and others given opportunities will go a long way towards ending a two-season playoff drought.
On the upside, again, is that the Sharks own their own first round draft pick this year and could be selecting somewhere in the top ten in a draft deep in upper echelon talent at the top. They also took care of some business Wednesday morning, inking Alexander Barabanov to another one year deal at just a hair over $1 million. It’s a cap-friendly deal for a player that showed top-six talent (7 points in 8 games with San Jose) when given an opportunity to play big minutes after not getting a fair shake in stacked Toronto.
“We got to see some prospects,” said Boughner, reflecting on the season. “We went through a trade deadline, restocked the shelves. We got a guy like Barabanov. That was a positive. Being able to experience the (Patty) Marleau breaking the record was amazing. There were a lot of good things that happened along the way. I thought that our dressing room is a better room than it was in training camp. This is a good learning experience for everyone.”