Unsatisfied with the underwhelming performance of some of his veteran players in their game with the Colorado Avalanche over the weekend, Sharks coach Bob Boughner promised some lineup changes for his team’s game Tuesday with the Minnesota Wild.
Winger Kevin Labanc was moved from the third line to the fourth line, replaced by Andrew Cogliano, for Monday’s practice in Denver, and Boughner said rookie Santeri Hatakka will dress against Minnesota, replacing either Marc-Edouard Vlasic or Radim Simek in the lineup on the third defense pair.
The Sharks were drubbed 6-2 by the Avalanche on Saturday as they were plagued by penalties in the first period and puck management issues throughout. The Sharks are 1-3-1 in their last five games and are in sixth place in the Pacific Division, 7-6-1 overall.
Saturday marked the first game back for several players, including Labanc, Vlasic and Simek, who had been in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol and away from the team for close to two weeks. Boughner felt their timing was off and that fatigue set in during the second half of the game.
“Once we lost it,” Boughner said Monday, “we couldn’t get it back.”
Boughner said Cogliano provides more speed on the third line to complement Nick Bonino and Matt Nieto, but added that Labanc needs to show more improvement in the details of his game.
With the Sharks leading 1-0 on Saturday, Labanc took a tripping penalty at the 8:30 mark of the first period that killed the team’s momentum to that point.
On the sequence leading up to the penalty, the Sharks wanted Labanc to get on the offensive side of the red line to deflect a pass from a Sharks defenseman into the Colorado zone to start a forecheck. Labanc, though, was unable to get in position and the puck didn’t get deep enough, soon tripped Tyson Jost in the neutral zone.
The Avalanche scored on the ensuing power play to the game, the first of four unanswered goals.
All four of Labanc’s points in nine games this season have come on the power play. Before he entered the protocol, Labanc had just one assist in five games.
“I think that there’s another level to his game, and we haven’t seen it yet,” Boughner said of Labanc. “We need it.”
The Sharks’ belief when they signed Labanc to a four-year, $18.9 million extension in Oct. 2020 was that he would grow into a top-six forward. But there’s work to do for Labanc to get to that point.
“We need (Labanc) to be more of an offensive player 5-on-5. by holding onto more pucks and spending some time being an offensive player,” Boughner said.
“We want him to be detailed, but we also want to see (Bonino’s) line generate chances and we feel we’re not getting enough from the bottom part of our lineup. If he’s going to be in that part of the lineup, third line right-winger or fourth line right-winger, he’s got to help that line out. He’s got to help produce.”
Hatakka played in five of six games and averaged 13:33 in ice time as the Sharks were without four of their top six defensemen from Oct. 30 to Nov. 11.
Vlasic and Simek have been paired together since the start of the season. But Boughner wants to reduce the workload on Brent Burns and Mario Ferraro, and said that Vlasic and Simek have both been “average at best.”
“I need to see a lot more consistency from that bottom pairing,” Boughner said. “I need to see … just a lot more urgency. We’re trying to put them in positions to succeed and they need to do their part.”
NOTE: Boughner said forward Jeffrey Viel, who recently rejoined practice, is still not an option to play. Viel has been out since Oct. 4 when he broke a finger in a preseason fight with Anaheim’s Sam Carrick. Viel had surgery on the hand, recently getting pins taken out, but is still not cleared for contact, Boughner said.