Anaheim Ducks goaltender Anthony Stolarz (41) stops a shot from the San Jose Sharks right wing Kevin LaBanc (62) as he’s defended by the Ducks center Adam Henrique (14) at SAP Center in San Jose on Wed Apr 14, 2021 (AP News photo)
By Matthew Harrington
A closed door meeting Tuesday. Shuffling of lines. Players inserted back into the lineup after for their first game action in weeks. The first career start for Josef Korenar. A last place opponent starting their third-string goalie. Both teams ahead in the standings losing. Everything was point to a make-or-break performance from the San Jose Sharks against the Anaheim Ducks (14-23-7) Wednesday night at home.
Instead, the Sharks (18-20-4) were nearly shut out for the second time in as many games by Anthony Stolarz, falling to the Anaheim Ducks 4-1. Korenar made 23 saves in his maiden start (he appeared in one other game in mop-up duty earlier this week for his pro debut).
The Sharks sit four points back of the final West Division playoff spot once again, but after Wednesday’s contest, that gap could feel like a chasm for Sharks fans. Stolarz wasn’t as busy as he was Monday in a 46-save effort, making just 27 stops in his 21st career start.
After scoring a pair last game, Alexander Volkov scored once and assisted on another Ducks goal. Ryan Getzlaf and Derek Grant also scored for the Ducks to hand the Sharks their third-straight defeat against a Southern California rival. San Jose has now gone 1-4 in their recent homestand.
“I don’t know if we hit rock bottom,” said Sharks coach Bob Boughner when asked. “It’s funny, we were on top of the mountain a few weeks ago. Now we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. We knew that, we talked about that the last few days. This is a tough feeling because the games are so important. Everybody around us that we’re chasing is losing as well so it’s a squandered opportunity.”
Switching Rudolfs Balcers to the top line with Logan Couture and Evander Kane, moving Kevin Labanc to line two with Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier didn’t produce a goal, nor did inserting Nicolas Meloche, Noah Gregor or Frederik Handemark but there were some signs of life for the Sharks.
Defenseman Radim Simek picked up a roughing minor for a scuffle with Troy Terry, then fought Max Comtois, a Shark killer who picked up an assist earlier in the game. Dylan Gambrell stepped up after Sam Steele pushed a puck under Korenar’s pad into the net, punching up a weight class or two against the Ducks Josh Manson, but the effort as a team was mostly missing, highlighted by an 0-for-3 power play night.
On Anaheim’s first goal, Erik Karlsson went in the corner for a failed dump in as the Ducks attempted to change. His clearing reverse died on the boards, allowing Troy Terry to scoop up the puck and dish it to cagey veteran Ryan Getzlaf for his 278 career goal 8:08 into the first.
“Without picking one guy or another guy, I think we need to play better as a team,” said Boughner. “But if you ask (Karlsson) you’d hope that he’d be honest that he’s got better than that. Especially in those crucial situations, we have to make better decisions with the puck and we have to manager our game better. I think he’s guilty of that and it gets contagious.”
Grant scored 2:29 into the second after the Sharks couldn’t advance the puck through the neutral zone. Volkov worked through Ryan Donato entering the zone, hit the brakes to shake Simek then past the puck to Manson at the point before Donato could close the gap. Manson’s shot was tipped by Grant for a 2-0 lead.
The Ducks second goal of the period followed a scramble that saw Korenar make a tremendous in-close toe save Comtois only to be asked to do it again against Volkov. He couldn’t stop the Ducks trade acquisition to put the Sharks down 3-0 with 26:20 left in regulation.
The Sharks broke Stolarz’s goalless streak at 117:44 when Erik Karlsson’s point shot beat him with the extra attacker on the ice and 2:16 remaining in regulation to pull within two 3-1. Jakob Silfverberg scored in the dying seconds on the power play to twist the knife one last time.
Perhaps the Sharks could do well with a change of scenery. They’ll hit the road for a pair in Minnesota. While the scoreboard watching may be a subplot, the main story in the State of Hockey from a Sharks’ perspective is Patrick Marleau’s quest for the all-time games played mark. #12 would tie Mr. Hockey Gordie Howe with 1,767 games played, more than any other person in the National Hockey League’s history in game two of the series.