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Amidst a dismal San Jose Sharks season, a new leader emerges

SAN JOSE – Just 15 seconds after he scored his ninth goal of the year, matching his total from last season, Nico Sturm squared off with Brett Ritchie to the left of the San Jose Sharks’ net.

It didn’t matter to Sturm that he had just one fighting major in the NHL prior to Tuesday’s game with the Calgary Flames, or that he was giving up about 10 pounds to Ritchie, a much more experienced pugilist.

Sturm had just seen Ritchie flatten Marc-Edouard Vlasic against the boards and perhaps without much regard for his own well-being, immediately challenged him, throwing his gloves down on the ice.

Did Sturm’s goal and fight help spark a Sharks turnaround after they allowed two goals in the first 30 seconds of the opening period? Maybe.

The Sharks came back to tie the game early in the third period on a Timo Meier goal, only to see Nazem Kadri score with 9:56 left in regulation time, helping lift the Flames to a 7-3 win at SAP Center.

Milan Lucic, Tyler Toffoli, and Kadri all added insurance goals in the final 3:17 of regulation time.

But there’s no question that Sturm’s actions provided some leadership after a disastrous start.

Sturm’s goal and fight were among the few highlights for the Sharks on Tuesday, as wingers Alexander Barabanov and Time Meier also scored and goalie James Reimer finished with 32 saves as the Sharks lost their third straight game and fell to 3-10-5 on home ice.

The Sharks host the Minnesota Wild, Sturm’s first NHL team, on Thursday in their last game before the Christmas break.

Toffoli scored just 15 seconds into the first period after some shoddy defensive zone coverage, and Dillon Dube scored at the 30-second mark after a giveaway by Erik Karlsson.

Sturm’s goal came at te 14:58 mark, as he hustled to the front of the Flames’ net before he took a pass from Meier and chipped the puck past goalie Jacob Markstrom.

Sturm’s scrap was his second in the NHL, as he previously fought Zach Sanford in March 2021. His only other fight on record came in 2016 when he was with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL.

The Sharks’ 10-18-6 record represents their worst start to a season after 34 games since 1995-96, when they were 7-23-4.

The Sharks announced Tuesday morning that forward Luke Kunin had undergone surgery earlier in the day to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

Kunin, 25, suffered the injury in last week’s game against the Arizona Coyotes and will miss the rest of the season, although it appears he’ll be ready for the start of next season’s training camp in September. Kunin, in the first year of a two-year, $5.5  million contract, had 13 points in 31 games, playing mostly a middle-six forward role.

Noah Gregor, for now, has been been given that role as he started Tuesday’s game on the Sharks’ third line with Nico Sturm and Evgeny Svechnikov.

“It’s an opportunity for whoever raises their hand and grabs that (ice time),” Quinn said. “Obviously (Gregor’s) done a good job since he’s been in and I’ve liked some of his game, so it’s a great opportunity for him.”

Monday night, the NHL handed Sharks No. 1 center Tomas Hertl a two-game suspension for his high stick on Flames center Elias Lindholm. Hertl, the Sharks’ second leading scorer with 32 points in 33 games, will be eligible to play again Dec. 27 when the Sharks are in Vancouver to play the Canucks.

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