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Sharks prospects shimmer, stumble in preseason debut

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The San Jose Sharks showed flashes of good play in their first preseason game, but inconsistency led to a 4-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks Tuesday night.

The Sharks quickly took the lead in the first period. Just 1:24 into the game, Joe Thornton stole the puck from below the Ducks goal line to set up Timo Meier for a quick one-timer.

Ten minutes later, newly-signed free agent Jonny Brodzinski deflected Ryan Merkley’s shot to make it 2-0. Brodzinski, who played on the right wing of Thornton and Marcus Sorenson, is part of a group of players that could break into the Sharks opening night lineup. Head coach Pete DeBoer said:

“He’s got a great shot, he’s got good speed, he works hard. He’s auditioning for some pretty big roles we have open. He’s one of four guys that tonight was the first night of that audition.”

Brodzinski had a game-high six shots on net while jumping into a line with Thornton and Sorenson. Brodzinski said:

“Those guys have a lot of chemistry already, so I’m just trying to find that mesh and really find the way that they play and acclimate my game to the way they’re playing.”

According to DeBoer, center Antti Suomela and prospect Danil Yurtaikin are also competing for NHL minutes. Suomela began the 2018-19 season with the Sharks, playing in 27 games before being sent down to finish the season with the Barracuda. 

To start the preseason, Suomela was thrust into the spotlight this game, centering a line of Meier and Kevin Labanc. While that line did not create too many chances, Suomela was able to play some solid shifts on the penalty kill. DeBoer said:

“I want to get him on the ice, I want to give him a chance to play some minutes … I thought he actually did a pretty good job out there.”

Yurtaykin, who has two years of experience playing in the KHL, showed some creativity by creating a few scoring chances. DeBoer said:

“ Didn’t result in points or shots on net, but you can see the skill level for sure … He definitely wasn’t overwhelmed by the game.”

The Sharks early lead slipped away in the second period. Defensive breakdowns led to the Ducks taking the lead with three unanswered goals. 

Just three minutes into the third period, Merkley took a hit to get the puck ahead to Joachim Blichfeld, who cruised into the Ducks zone and scored on a short side snapshot to tie the game at 3-3. Blichfeld said:

“I got a nice pass from [Merkley], I saw the [defensemen] was behind me a little bit, so I had some room to skate with it. I just hoped for the best and shot it and luckily it went in.”

Merkley’s two assists showcased his playmaking ability, but he also had two giveaways, including one that lead to Anaheim’s first goal. DeBoer said:

“He’s obviously elite skilled. With all young players, if you create two goals but give up two goals, you’re not helping us win games. So I think that’s the message.”

Sharks goaltender Aaron Dell played the first 26 minutes of the game, stopping 11 of 12 shots he faced. Dell had a rocky 2018-19 season, as he recorded a career-worst .886 save percentage. Dell said:

“I felt more controlled, more calm. I didn’t try to do too much or try to over-save things.”

Dell finished his half of the game with his most impressive save, getting across to stop a one-timer on a two-on-one rush. Dell said: 

“Burns played it pretty well. He made him have to hold onto it and make the pass late. That’s great for me, I know at that point he can’t shoot it, he has to throw it in tight and the other guy’s got to handle it.”

Josef Korenar let in three goals on 13 shots against in his first taste of the NHL. Korenar said:

“Going into a fast game in the middle of the game is pretty hard. But it was pretty good for me, straight to a fast game.”

A Ducks power play goal in the third period was the difference-maker in the 4-3 loss. The Sharks mustered 12 shots on goal in the third period, but were unable to convert. Through a full 1:30 of 5-on-3 power play time, the Sharks only put one shot on goal. On what the Sharks could improve on, Brodzinski said:

“Probably sustaining more offensive-zone pressure. We didn’t have a lot of it tonight, I felt that it was kind of a neutral zone game. We played a little too much in our own zone.”

Up Next

The Sharks preseason continues in Calgary Wednesday. Puck drop is set for 6 p.m. PDT.

Notes

Forward Noah Gregor and defensemen Tim Heed also picked up assists. The Sharks second group should play in the next preseason game. This group includes Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Evander Kane, Erik Karlsson, Mario Ferraro and Sasha Chmelevski.

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