Feb 2, 2023

Howdy, Cuda Country. Hope you’ve had a great week. The Barracuda finished its road trip with a 1-1-0-1 mark, falling in the finale on Saturday, 5-4, in Bakersfield against the Condors. With the loss, things have gotten quite interesting in the Pacific Division as the Condors are just two points behind the Barracuda for the last playoff spot and have two games in hand as of today (Thursday). SJ does have 29 games left on the 2022-23 schedule, so a lot can shake out from now until the end of the year. But it’s getting to that point where you’ve got to start stacking points. It’s also the time to start making Tech CU Arena a tough place to play in. The Barracuda have won two in a row at home dating back to its last homestand but are 5-5 in its last 10 and 11-10-0-1 on the year. Good teams are generally around a .750 winning percentage or better at home and a .500 winning percentage or better on the road. It’s certainly not too late, but the runway is getting shorter and shorter by the day.

The Barracuda begin a five-game homestand on Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (2 p.m.) against the Abbotsford Canucks and a good start to the month could propel the team up the standings as it tries to make some hay over the next couple of months. Of the 25 games remaining against in-division teams, just six of them are against the three clubs below the Cuda in the standings (San Diego - 1, Bakersfield - 4, Henderson - 1). Meaning the road won’t be easy, but the weight of winning or losing games is increased as well. Going on a run and you can vault quickly. Stub your toe for a stretch and all of the sudden you can begin to plummet. 

The Barracuda have five more combined games against the top two teams in the Pacific Division, Coachella Valley and Calgary, who San Jose has a combined 0-6-0-1 record against, getting outscored 8-32 in the seven games (three shutouts). The final two contests versus Calgary will come during the upcoming homestand as the Wranglers make their first-ever visit to The Reef. I think we'll have a much better understanding of where this team stacks up once we through February and get through this homestand.

With the impending NHL trade deadline (March 3), coupled with big-club needs, injuries, etc., rosters will most likely change in the next couple of months as they always do. We’ve seen that already with the Sharks over the last handful of weeks as Mike Grier has made multiple trades that have impacted the Barracuda directly. I think we all expect more to come, too.

Inside the room, there’s still a jovial vibe and confidence among the players, which is reassuring that the team knows it has a run in them. Certainly the talent is there, so if the Barracuda can peak at the right time, they’ll be a handful down the stretch. Should set up for a fun final two and a half months.

Speaking of trades, the Sharks finally did the inevitable and obliged to Ryan Merkley’s trade request, sending the 2018 first-rounder to the Avs in a deal that also included Matt Nieto going to Colorado. In return, the Sharks received 2018 first-rounder Martin Kaut and defenseman Jacob MacDonald. For Kaut (16th overall) and Merkley (21st overall), the deal presents a fresh start for both players. 

One of the first people to call Kaut when he got traded was Tomas Hertl, his fellow countryman. And he skates in the summers with Adam Raska, so there’s some familiarity. Plus, Barracuda captain Andrew Agozzino was his center-man as a rookie with the Eagles in 2018-19. Cracking a Stanley Cup lineup isn’t an easy proposition, so for Kaut, San Jose is a golden opportunity to reach the NHL and stick. For now, he'll have to prove his mettle in the AHL.

Maybe it's because they are both 23, and both former first-round picks, but the first player that came to mind when Kaut was acquired was Klim Kostin of the Edmonton Oilers. Kostin, who is also a winger, was a St. Louis first-round pick in 2017 and never panned out with the Blues. This year he has found a home with the Oilers, playing a rugged style while chipping in with some offense. Not to prognosticate but a fresh start can do wonders for a player.

Following this weekend, the AHL goes into its first All-Star Break since 2019-20 as some of the top players in the "A" descend on Laval, Quebec. Make sure to check it all out as Thomas Bordeleau will be the team’s lone representative. Live broadcast coverage of the event from Place Bell will air Sunday, Feb. 5 at 3 p.m. PT for the Rona AHL All-Star Skills Competition, and Monday, Feb. 6 at 4 p.m. PT for the Mise-o-jeu AHL All-Star ChallengeAHLTV will also be offering a free video stream of both nights of the 2023 AHL All-Star Classic to AHL fans worldwide. In the US, the two-day event will be on NHL Network and on TSN in Canada.

Next year’s All-Star Classic will be at Tech CU Arena in San Jose, so for those of you who haven’t enjoyed the league’s marquee event before, this year will wet your appetite for next season when it makes its way out west again. 

That’ll do it for this edition of Nolly’s Notes. Thank you all for reading and so long until next time.

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