Why Boughner’s benching of Sharks forwards Meier, Dahlen shouldn’t be a big surprise

Why Boughner’s benching of Sharks forwards Meier, Dahlen shouldn’t be a big surprise

SAN JOSE – The Sharks were desperate to finish off a challenging week at home on a positive note and head into their upcoming four-game road trip with a little bit of momentum. Every win is obviously critical with the Sharks trying to keep pace in the Western Conference’s playoff race.

So it was a rather unorthodox move for coach Bob Boughner to bench two of his leading goal scorers just as the Sharks were about to begin overtime Thursday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

But for Boughner, maybe that was the point.

Boughner said at the end of last season after the Sharks finished with a 21-28-7 record and out of the playoffs that he needed to do a better job of holding everyone to the same standard. Too often, he felt, he let some bad habits exhibited by some of his best players slide for the sake of trying to pick up every point possible.

“You want to hold everybody to the same standard, which we do, but that has to go for your best players as well. There can’t be any blurred lines,” Boughner said in May. “I think at times, because of the situation we were in, fighting for every point, some of the guys might have gotten away with more than we wished for.”

It was an issue Boughner promised to correct before this season began, and there have been a handful of examples this year where he’s reduced ice time or moved players down the lineup to make a point.

But Thursday’s instance – where Timo Meier and Jonathan Dahlen stayed seated for overtime – was among the most visible.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: San Jose Sharks’ Jonathan Dahlen (76) waits for a face-off against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first period at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

As overtime began, Logan Couture took his familiar spot at the faceoff dot at center ice. But it was Matt Nieto who skated up to the red line, just to the left of Couture, instead of Meier or Dahlen, who were on the Sharks’ bench.

Meier and Dahlen, owners of 21 combined goals this season, watched the rest of overtime before Tomas Hertl scored at the 4:29 mark to give the Sharks a well-deserved 3-2 win over the Flyers.

Clearly, Boughner was unhappy with Meier’s third-period turnover in the neutral zone that led to Joel Farabee’s goal with 4:03 left in regulation. Meier, with Dahlen on his wing, had the puck knocked off his stick by Keith Yandle.

That led to an odd-man rush by the Flyers and Farabee fired a wrist shot past James Reimer for his ninth goal of the season that tied the game 2-2. On the play, Dahlen took a rather circuitous route to get on the backcheck.

“Timo’s been one of our best players all year and you’ve got to hold everyone to the same standard and hold everybody accountable,” Boughner said. “Especially after the last game and what we talked about – mismanaging pucks and not getting them deep, managing the clock and the score of the game.

“I just thought it was an opportunity where we were going to make sure that we set a standard.”

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer (47) is congratulated by San Jose Sharks’ Nocolas Meloche (53) after their 3-2 overtime win against the Philadelphia Flyers at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

The Sharks got the needed two points, improving to 17-14-1 on the season. With 35 points, San Jose is now one point back of Edmonton for the second wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Oilers have two games in hand, though.

Next for the Sharks is a Sunday matinee in Pittsburgh as they begin a four-game road trip that also features games against Detroit, Buffalo, and a rematch with the Flyers on Jan. 8.

“We want to stay in this thing, we want to stay in this hunt and keep clawing at it, and we’re right there,” Boughner said. “So it was a big week for us.”

FINDING THE BLUEPRINT: Defenseman Mario Ferraro was added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol before Thursday’s game, a potentially huge loss just as the Sharks are about to embark on a challenging trip against Eastern Conference teams.

Ferraro is second among all Sharks skaters in average time on ice with 24:02 per game and Thursday’s game was the first he’s missed since the 2019-2020 season. It was not immediately known how Ferraro was feeling or if he was symptomatic.

Ferraro is also the NHL’s leader in blocked shots and 93 and is the Sharks’ leading penalty kill, averaging 2:33 of ice time shorthanded per game. Ferraro is third among all Sharks defensemen with 10 points.

“Mario’s a big part of our team. He’s a heart and soul guy,” Reimer said. “He makes plays, he kills penalties. So it’s a big hole when he’s not in the lineup.”

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: San Jose Sharks’ Brent Burns (88) celebrates his goal with San Jose Sharks’ Radim Simek (51) and San Jose Sharks’ Tomas Hertl (48) against the Philadelphia Flyers in the second period at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

How the Sharks get by without Ferraro probably involves a ton of ice time for Erik Karlsson.

Karlsson played a season-high 29:36 on Thursday, including 5:00 on the power play and 2:34 on the penalty kill. He was one of five Sharks with five shots on net and according to Natural Stat Trick, San Jose out-chanced Philadelphia 15-8 when Karlsson was on the ice at even strength.

Boughner noted Radim Simek, who was placed alongside Brent Burns for the start of Thursday’s game and also played another right-hand shot in Nicolas Meloche.

“It allowed us to move Simek back to the left side and I think (it made) a major difference in his game,” Boughner said. “Just moving pucks and feeling a little more comfortable on that side.

“If there’s anything good that came out of that, we finally had three lefties and three righties.”

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 30: San Jose Sharks’ Jeffrey Viel (63) fights against Philadelphia Flyers’ Nick Seeler (24) in the second period at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
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