Coach Bob Boughner feels the challenges the Sharks have faced through the first quarter of the season have been as significant as any NHL team’s so far this season.
The Sharks experienced a COVID-19 outbreak in late October and early November – taking seven players out of the lineup — and right now, they’re already on their third five-game road trip of the season.
So far, they’ve handled it all about as well as could be expected.
Noah Gregor had a goal and an assist and James Reimer made 31 saves as the Sharks used a strong second period to beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Tuesday for their fourth win in their last five games.
In the second period, Alexander Barabanov had assists on goals by Jake Middleton and Erik Karlsson, and Timo Meier scored his 10th as the season as the Sharks improved to 2-0-0 on their five-game road trip that is scheduled to continue Thursday at UBS Arena against the New York Islanders.
Meier also had an empty-net goal with 3:01 left in regulation time as the Sharks (12-9-1) have now won seven of 12 games away from SAP Center.
“I think we’ve found ways different ways to win,” Boughner said Tuesday morning. “Sometimes when we’re not at our best, we’re finding ways to get points, whether that’s goaltending or special teams or someone stepping up, I think that’s a little bit of a different mindset than we had last year.
“I think we’ve handled adversity well. There are things that happen during the season, the COVID, we’ve had heavy travel. I think our first quarter of the season could be as tough as anybody’s in this league.”
Gregor opened the scoring at the 4:26 mark of the first period.
Nick Bonino won a draw in the Devils’ zone back to Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who slid the puck over along the blue line to defense partner Radim Simek more toward the middle of the ice. Simek’s shot was stopped by Mackenzie Blackwood, but Gregor went to the net, got the loose puck, and chipped it past the Devils goalie for his first goal of the season.
Gregor started the game on a line with Bonino and Matt Nieto, as his goal was the fourth from a player on one of the Sharks’ bottom two lines in the last five games.
Boughner said it was the best game he’s seen Gregor play with the Sharks.
“Great goal and I know he got an assist, but I loved his details tonight,” Boughner said of Gregor. “An example at the end of the game when there were three or four minutes to go and he had to win a board battle, he was strong. He was strong on the ice and I thought he kept things simple. That’s a good line. I like that line.”
In the second period, after Middleton’s goal at the 4:14 mark, the Sharks scored twice in 41 seconds to take control.
Meier took a nice pass from Logan Couture from behind the net and beat Blackwood with a wrist shot at the 10:49 mark.
On the next shift, Barabanov used some patience in the Devils’ zone before he found Karlsson with a seam pass through the slot. Karlsson then beat Blackwood for his fourth of the season at the 11:30 mark.
New Jersey got goals from Tomas Tatar and Jesper Bratt in the third period to cut the Sharks’ lead to 4-2, but lost for the sixth time in eight games.
The Sharks opened the road trip with a 2-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Reimer made 29 saves for his first shutout of the season and is now 4-3-0 on the road this year.
After Thursday’s game, which may need to be rescheduled because of the Islanders’ own COVID issues, the Sharks play the New York Rangers on Friday and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday. Boughner, though, said indications were that Thursday’s game would be played. He and the Sharks will know for sure Wednesday.