November 30, 2023
NHL: Rebuilding San Jose Sharks unable to keep up with the Tampa Bay Lightning

The San Jose Sharks game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night provided a clear snapshot as to where each franchise is at right now in terms of their expectations for this season.

The Lightning have their sights set on advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the fourth time in five years. The Sharks are in full rebuild mode, hoping they can be competitive again within the next two or three seasons.

That stark contrast was on full display at Amalie Arena, as the Sharks were completely outclassed in a 6-0 loss to the Lightning, extending San Jose’s record losing streak to start a season to seven games.

The Sharks allowed three goals in a lopsided first period and two more in the first 7:29 of the second before starting goalie Mackenzie Blackwood was mercifully pulled by coach David Quinn. Kaapo Kahkonen, who was slated to start Friday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, came in relief.

Blackwood allowed five goals on 21 shots to five different Lightning players, including ex-Sharks winger Mikey Eyssimont, who scored at the 6:03 mark of the first period to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead. Eyssimont was traded by the Sharks to the Lightning on March 1 for Vladislav Namestnikov. Two days later, Namestnikov was dealt to the Winnipeg Jets for a 2025 fourth-round draft pick.

Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, Nick Paul, and Brandon Hagel also scored for Tampa Bay as the Sharks fell to 0-6-1 on the season, just four games shy of matching the franchise record for a winless start to a season. The Sharks team in 1998-99 had zero wins, seven losses and four ties to begin the year.

The Sharks on Thursday, at least through the first two periods, were a step slow to pucks and just could not keep up with the Lightning, who not only play with pace but also can break out of their own zone with frightening quickness.

That was the case on Hagel’s goal, as Victor Hedman found Alex Barré-Boule with a 120-foot pass up the ice. Barré-Boule then found Hagel for a breakaway chance.

The Sharks have now scored just an NHL-low eight goals in seven games.

Perhaps the most concerning part of Thursday’s game from the Sharks perspective was the Lightning, for at least 40 minutes, were the harder-working team. Per Natural Stat Trick, the Sharks created just six high-danger chances through the first two-plus periods and allowed 14.

For the undermanned Sharks to have any chance of being competitive against playoff-caliber teams, they need to be detailed with a work ethic to match.

Now one wonders when the Sharks might earn their first victory. After Friday’s game with Carolina, the Sharks conclude their road trip on Sunday against the Washington Capitals.

If the Sharks can’t pick up a win in either of those two games, their next chances would come next week at home when they play the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday and the Pittsburgh Penguins next Saturday.

Before the game, the Sharks placed forward Alexander Barabanov on injured reserve and recalled center Ryan Carpenter from the Barracuda. Barabanov has a broken finger, suffered Tuesday against Florida, and is considered week-to-week. He returned to San Jose on Thursday and will have the finger examined by a specialist.

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Barabanov was injured when he was hit in the left hand by a shot from winger Mike Hoffman in front of the Panthers’ net late in the third period. Barabanov was then knocked down by a Gustav Forsling cross-check to the back before Oliver Ekman-Larsson landed on him in Florida’s crease.

Barabanov didn’t have a point in six games so far this season but was playing in the Sharks’ top-six forward group, just like he had been for most of the past two-plus seasons in San Jose. His absence creates another hole for the reeling Sharks to try and fill.

Also playing without injured centers Logan Couture and Mikael Granlund, the Sharks have scored just eight goals in six games — the lowest per-game average in the NHL — as they’ve stumbled to a 0-5-1 start. It is unclear as to when both forwards, dealing with lower body ailments, will be able to return.