The San Jose Sharks John Leonard (43) is fired up after scoring a first period goal against the visiting Anaheim Ducks at SAP Center in San Jose on Mon Feb 15, 2021 (AP News photo)
By Matthew Harrington
The San Jose Sharks (6-7-1) bounced back from the dismal 3-1 loss to Vegas in their home opener Saturday night, beating the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 Monday night for their first home win of the season.
Rookie John Leonard picked up his first career goal, Kevin Labanc broke a ten-game scoreless streak and Logan Couture added to his team lead with a 7th goal and added an assist.
Martin Jones made 26 saves after an early stumble and Brent Burns lead the Sharks with 26:46 minutes on ice. Sam Steele and Maxime Comtois scored for the Ducks (6-7-3).
Pressure was high for San Jose entering the game.
Not only were they without two key defensemen in Radim Simek and Erik Karlsson (both injured Saturday against Vegas), their head coach called out the team for a lack of response particularly after Simek went down to a cross-check from Jonathan Marchessault that warranted, but didn’t receive a physical response.
While the game wasn’t filled with hard hits or a parade to the penalty box, a win is ultimately the best response. The short-handed Sharks defensive corps looked like it would be in trouble early after it’s arguable top pair fumbled their way into the opening goal.
Mario Ferraro, blocking an incoming rush from Anaheim’s Sam Steele, wound up heel-kicking the puck past Jones for a 1-0 visitors lead 50 seconds into the game.
Just under halfway through the period on the power play, Leonard broke through for his first goal and first point since the season opener, curling just below the faceoff dot to Anaheim netminder John Gibson’s left.
Leonard waited for Ryan Donato to screen the Ducks goalie before wristing the puck past Gibson. Leonard’s former UMass-Amherst teammate Mario Ferraro assisted on the tying goal at the 9:43 mark of the period.
After taking a team-friendly deal last season, Labanc signed a four-year, $18.9 million deal in the offseason with the expectation that he’d be a key contributor on offense. Entering play Monday, he hadn’t lit the lamp since January 18th against St. Louis, his only marker on the year. Sometimes getting off the skid takes creativity.
4:48 into the 2nd period Labanc caught a rebound from an Evander Kane shot in mid-air brought it down to the ice, took a shot in the slot, followed his rebound and banked the puck off Gibson from below the goal line to give the Sharks the 2-1 lead.
Couture picked up the secondary assist on the goal, setting him up for a multi-point night later in the period. The Sharks captain capitalized on a Ryan Getzlaf turnover with 8:45 left in the 2nd period for his team-leading seventh goal of the season in what was one of the Sharks better periods of the season.
San Jose out-shot Anaheim 13-4 and outscored them 2-0 in the frame.
Maxime Comtois put the pressure on the Sharks to hang on to the win early in the third period, scoring his seventh goal two minutes into the final frame. The puck once again was deflected off Ferraro. Anaheim outshot the Sharks 9-6 in the period but never found their equalizing goal.
The Ducks won’t be confused for contenders in the West division this season as they continue to restock their cupboards with talent, but the Sharks need to stack up the wins against the teams they’re expected to beat in order to nab the final division playoff spot over Arizona, Los Angeles, Minnesota and Anaheim.
San Jose will have a better idea of how they’ll withstand the shortage of healthy d-men over the next nine games after moving out of the division cellar Monday. They’ll face St. Louis for four, Vegas for three and Colorado for two before facing the Ducks on the road in back-to-back games on the 12th and 13th of March. The aforementioned three clubs are near-locks to be playoff squads, if not Stanley Cup contenders.
Notes: The Sharks took warm-ups in jerseys honoring Black History Month….Fredrik Claesson made his San Jose debut being signed as a free agent on January 11th, playing 9:01 with one shot on goal and one hit registered…..The Sharks second power-play unit had a youthful feel with Rudolfs Balcers, John Leonard and Ryan Donato all on board…Logan Couture has scored in all three games against Anaheim this season.
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