Kaapo Kahkonen, Givani Smith shine as San Jose Sharks blast St. Louis


SAN JOSE – The San Jose Sharks have played with too much trepidation in recent games, understandable since their margin for victory has been so small that even minor mistakes can have disastrous consequences.
Thursday was a different story, at least in the eyes of Sharks coach David Quinn.
“I think we’ve been pretty passive lately, and I think that can happen when you’ve been losing the way we have,” Quinn said. “I think you play with a little bit of fear, and I thought we played fearless tonight. When you do that, good things happen.”
The Sharks released five weeks’ worth of offensive frustration in one evening at SAP Center, scoring four second-period goals to earn a 5-1 win over the St. Louis Blues, improving to 3-3-0 in the last 10 days since starting the year 0-10-1.
Leading by a goal after the first period, the Sharks (3-13-1) scored three times in the first 3:25 of the second, blowing it open to enjoy a rare laugher in a season filled with adversity.
Sharks goalie Kaapo Kahkonen made 11 saves in the first period and finished with 45 for the game as he earned his first victory this year.
Mike Hoffman scored twice and six other players had two points each as the Sharks scored the most goals they’ve had in a single game since April 1 when they beat the Arizona Coyotes 7-2 at Mullett Arena in Tempe.
Now, can this carry over? The Sharks’ next game is Monday against the Vancouver Canucks, who blasted San Jose 10-1 on Nov. 2.
“I sure as hell hope so,” Quinn said. “That’s the plan.”
It was a particularly strong night for the Sharks’ line of Ryan Carpenter, Givani Smith, and Luke Kunin, who combined for six points.
“Just playing simple helped us out,” Smith said. “We all play a strong game, so we all know what we’re going to do. Simple hockey.”
Smith’s goal, his first since Jan. 19 when he was with the Florida Panthers, and his ninth in 134 career NHL games, gave the Sharks a 3-0 lead at the 2:39 mark of the second period. Just 46 seconds later, Kunin scored his fourth of the season as the Sharks took advantage of some shoddy Blues defense in front of their own net.
On Smith’s goal, Carpenter won a puck battle and swung the puck to the middle of the ice, where Kunin knocked it back to Smith near the slot.
“Everyone was really excited after he scored. Maybe even after that pass. That pass was maybe even nicer,” Carpenter deadpanned.
Kunin has now scored in three straight games.
“When you put lines together, you take into consideration how all four lines look,” Quinn said. “So it paid off.”
William Eklund also scored for San Jose, which came into Thursday averaging an NHL-worst 1.31 goals per game. The Sharks had been held to one goal or less in 11 of their first 16 games, including being shut out three times.
That’s led to some hard-luck results for Sharks goalies Kahkonen and Mackenzie Blackwood. Kahkonen in particular has made at least 33 saves in three of his six appearances this season but received an average of 0.40 goals in support.
“I think every single line was going and every defense pair was going,” Kahkonen said. “It’s great to see.”
Kahkonen, making his third start in eight games this month, finished the first period with 11 saves, including four on Grade A chances for St. Louis. The Blues had four shots alone in the final minute.
“Those are timely saves like that when maybe they can tie the game,” Carpenter said. “Maybe you’re starting to, not doubt a little bit, but they get some momentum. Sometimes it’s not only how many saves he makes in the game, but some of the timely saves when the games are close. That allowed us to kind of get the lead for him.”
On the Sharks’ opening goal, Nico Sturm took a pass from Filip Zadina and fed a pass across the slot to Hoffman, who slid the puck into a mostly open net past Blues goalie Joel Hofer for his second goal in as many games.
“As we get going, I feel like we got to learn how to win games,” Smith said. “And every night, we learn: Every day, every practice, every game. So it’s big for myself, the team, and all the young guys that are here.”
NOTE: The Sharks kept two high-priced players out of the lineup as defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and winger Kevin Labanc were two of the team’s three healthy scratches. Defenseman Nikolai Knyzhov was also scratched.
Coming into the lineup Thursday were winger Anthony Duclair and defenseman Kyle Burroughs. Duclair had been recovering from a case of strep throat, causing him to miss three straight games before Thursday, and Burroughs was healthy scratched for Tuesday’s game with the Florida Panthers.
Vlasic’s salary cap hit, per CapFriendly, is $7 million as he’s in the sixth year of an eight-year, $56 million deal the Sharks awarded him on July 1, 2017. Labanc’s cap hit is $4.725 million, as he is in the final year of a four-year, $18.9 million deal he signed in Oct. 2020.
Combined, the cap hits of Vlasic, Labanc and Knyzhov ($1.25 million) account for approximately 15.6 percent of the $83.5 million salary cap. The combined salary of the three players this year is $13.225 million.
Vlasic has now been scratched in four games this season and Labanc has now had to sit for five games.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here