Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. at SAP Center at San Jose
The San Jose Sharks return home for a one-game pit stop against the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday before returning to the road for two more games. Preseason Western Conference favorites after their acquisition of Erik Karlsson, the Sharks were able to salvage the final game in what remained a disastrous five-game east coast road trip with a 3-1 win in Montreal.
While the Sharks have struggled more than most would have expected, they still hold a Pacific Division playoff spot at 13-10-5. The Sharks are hopeful that their performance will eventually settle at their talent level as this veteran team grows more accustomed to playing together.
The offensive attack has proved to be potent, as the Sharks are currently tenth in goals scored. Brent Burns, who leads all NHL defensemen in assists, has continued to drive the offensive play every time he is on the ice as he leads the Sharks with 29 total points. Captain Joe Pavelski has provided the scoring touch with 17 goals on the season at 34 years-old, and the recent return of Joe Thornton lengthens the Sharks lineup even further. The Sharks remain a dangerous team throughout the lineup and feature perhaps the two most dynamic defensemen on the offensive end. They have plenty of firepower...if they can only figure out the other end.
Defensively and between the pipes, the Sharks have been fairly brutal for most of the season. Martin Jones, who has three very solid seasons as the starter in San Jose, has been at his career worst this far in 2018-19. In 19 starts, Jones has produced a meager .894 save percentage and a subpar 3.00 goals against average to date. Aaron Dell has been only marginally better in a backup role, but in order for the Sharks to maintain their playoff position, they must begin to receive the solid goaltending they have received previously from Jones. As a team that has seemingly only improved after finishing top ten in goals against the past two seasons, expect some sort of regression to the mean in terms of goal prevention in San Jose.
The bottom line for the Sharks is that, despite being a disappointment to date, they have not paid the price within their weak division, which has kept them from digging a deep hole. Expect that a turning point is coming, as the Sharks are certainly all in on winning in the short term and will seek out whatever help is necessary to build the best possible team to reach and advance in the playoffs yet again.
What to Watch For
- Curtis McElhinney is expected to be in net again for the Canes, while Wednesday could perhaps provide the return of Brett Pesce on the blueline.
- Timo Meier is currently nursing an upper body injury and is unclear for Wednesday. He is tied for third for the Sharks in points at 23 (13 goals, 10 assists). His presence would change the dynamics somewhat, should he return after missing three games.
- Special teams will be important as always, as the Sharks sport the second-best penalty kill in the league, while the Canes’ kill has been boosted to 18th on the strength of killing 21 straight penalties.
Friday, 10:00 p.m. at Honda Center
The Hurricanes will close out their season series against the Anaheim Ducks in short order as they visit Orange County on Friday. The Canes will look to avenge their 2-1 OT loss, as the Ducks scored inside the final four minutes to tie the game, and controlled the puck for the entirety of overtime. For a deeper look at the Ducks, check out last week’s preview of the Ducks.
The Ducks, similarly to the Sharks, have waded their way through a difficult beginning to the season and see themselves above the playoff cut line in the Pacific Division. This matchup will again feature the highest shot-generating team (Carolina) against the highest shot-yielding team (Anaheim). The question will continue to be, can the Canes begin to convert their opportunities into goals? Offensive ineptitude appears to have followed them to the west coast, but they must continue to fire pucks and hope that some semblance of a scoring touch arrives before utter frustration can set in.
What to Watch For
- We know Carolina can generate shots and that Anaheim will give them up. The question is, can Carolina generate high-quality scoring chances? Pay attention to the quality of opportunities, as the Ducks will be content to allow low-percentage looks. Will they do the work required to get high-end chances?
- The Ducks enter this week hot, having reeled off four straight to close out their most recent five-game winning streak. Can the Canes cool them down?