Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-3 overtime loss vs. Sabres

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-3 overtime loss vs. Sabres


Well, you can't say the Sharks didn't make things interesting Tuesday night.

San Jose forced overtime at KeyBank Center but fell 4-3 to the red-hot Buffalo Sabres in the extra frame. The Sharks jumped out to a two-goal lead in the first period, but they trailed by a goal until defenseman Erik Karlsson tied the game with just under nine minutes left. 

Here are three takeaways from the Sharks' second straight loss. 

Why this loss is hard to swallow

The Sharks showed a lot of resiliency at the start of the game, rebounding from two defensive breakdowns in the first minute to leading 2-0 at the first intermission. Then, when they trailed for the first time in the third, they picked up the pace, grinding the Sabres down before Karlsson scored the equalizer.

But the Sharks slowly lost control of the game in the second period after the Sabres cut the lead in half on Jack Eichel's power-play goal. After rebounding so well in the first frame, coughing up a two-goal lead is a disappointment.

Jones vs. Eichel

Sharks goaltender Martin Jones stood on his head at times Tuesday, often stymying Buffalo's four-line attack. But Jones' most impressive saves came against the Sabres' young captain, who played on another level after a mid-game collision with Timo Meier. Eichel tallied six of Buffalo's 29 shots, and he could've scored more than two goals were it not for Jones. 

Jones allowed four goals on 29 shots, but that's not an accurate snapshot of how he played Tuesday, considering all the big saves he made. What the starter needs, now, is for the team in front of him to score another goal or two on the other end of the ice.

On that note ...

[RELATED: Watch Meier, Marleau and Vlasic go tic-tac-toe on Sharks goal]

Closer to establishing a four-line game

In all honesty, the Sharks looked better at even strength in Tuesday's game than they have all season. Their top two lines were clicking and even the fourth line got on the board, thanks to Dylan Gambrell's first regular-season NHL goal.

But it wasn't just the goal-scoring. the Sabres didn't hem the Sharks in their own end, and San Jose instead did a much better job pushing play forward and protecting the puck. If the Sharks can play like that on a more regular basis, they'll be a much harder team to play against -- even against some of the tough competition they have coming up on their schedule.

Sharks top prospect Ryan Merkley modeling his game after Erik Karlsson

Sharks top prospect Ryan Merkley modeling his game after Erik Karlsson

When it comes to the Sharks' top prospects, 19-year-old defenseman Ryan Merkley is in a tier unto himself.

San Jose selected Merkley with the No. 21 overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft after he slipped due to character concerns. His talent, however, has never been in question and was too good to pass up.

Merkley impressed during his participation in the Sharks' rookie camp last September, and just completed what is likely to be his final season in junior hockey with the OHL's London Knights. With 15 goals and 76 points, he was the OHL's second-highest scoring defenseman, and his 61 assists ranked fourth-most in the entire league. London's season was brought to a premature conclusion due to the coronavirus pandemic, at which time the Knights sat in first place in their conference with a 45-15-2 record. San Jose's top prospect played a key role in their success.

"Ryan had a very good year," Sharks scouting director Doug Wilson Jr. said last week on a conference call (H/T The Athletic's Kevin Kurz). "In his career, every single season he scored more goals, he had more assists, he had more points and his plus-minus got better all four years in the OHL. I’m very excited about Ryan."

Always an offensive standout, Merkley is a great skater with advanced vision and tremendous passing ability. Though he has added more than 10 pounds in weight since the rookie camp, he's never going to be an imposing physical specimen, and his defense definitely is the area where he'll need to improve most. The Sharks, however, have someone specific in mind for him to learn from and model his game after.

"The biggest thing with [Merkley] was he’s never going to hit guys like Brent Burns or Radim Simek, he’s going to play defense more like Erik Karlsson," Wilson Jr. added. "If we can get him to use his stick to angle guys off in the neutral zone and then get the puck going north faster, that’s how he’s going to play defense. I think that’s what you saw this year with him."

Karlsson has long been regarded as one of the top defensemen in the NHL, and deservedly so. He signed an eight-year contract extension prior to the currently-paused season, so he should be around for quite a while. Merkley has a long way to go to get on Karlsson's level, but he already has been studying the former Norris Trophy winner for some time now.

"Yeah. He’s not the biggest of bodies, but he’s a great skater and closes up the gap well, makes that great first pass," Merkley told Kurz about Karlsson. "I do think there are some similarities and things I can look up to. Obviously, he’s one of the best in the world. So [Wilson Jr.] and [the Sharks staff] were big on me watching him and watching the way he defends. It’s just (about) growing, getting better and getting more reps."

In addition to Karlsson, Merkley has another Sharks' defenseman to learn from in Mario Ferraro. They roomed together during the rookie camp, and Merkley made sure to follow Ferraro's extremely successful rookie season.

"For sure, it was awesome for him. I was excited for Mario," Merkley said. "He got a good chunk of NHL games. He’s a workhorse. I’ve never seen anybody (take care of) the body and (do) what he does off the ice. It’s incredible. He never stops moving out there, his work ethic is incredible. He’ll play a long time in the league because there’s not many that take care of their body like that or work as hard as he does. It’s awesome, something I can look up to and follow."

[RELATED: What NHL's potential 24-team return could mean for Sharks]

Ferraro projects as a future top-pair defenseman and it wouldn't be surprising if he eventually was involved in the captaincy. The Sharks are hoping Merkley turns out just as well.

And, if they end up with another Karlsson ... that's the dream.

NHLPA OKs further talks with NHL on 24-team return; Sharks' season could end


NHLPA OKs further talks with NHL on 24-team return; Sharks' season could end

The NHL and the players' association took a big step toward returning to the ice, but it could mean the Sharks' 2019-20 season is over.

The NHLPA announced Friday night that it has "authorized further negotiations with the NHL" on a 24-team return to play format.

As the players' association noted, the sides still have more details to work out before the league officially can resume the season that was suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

While no specifics were provided on the teams that would be allowed to resume playing, the Sharks are not one of the 24 best teams in the NHL standings.

The Sharks possessed the worst record in the Western Conference (29-36-5; 63 points) and the third-worst record in the NHL when the season was suspended.

[RELATED: What went wrong for Sharks]

If this is how the Sharks' season concludes, it will put an end to a campaign in which the team entered with high expectations.

Last season, the Sharks made it to the Western Conference finals before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.

The Sharks again were expected to contend for the Stanley Cup this season, but the departure of several veterans, combined with poor play early in the campaign, led to the firing of coach Peter DeBoer after 33 games. Bob Boughner took over as interim coach, but San Jose skated to just a 14-20-3 record under him.