Over the past couple of years, any story involving the Sharks and the Wild focused on one of two things.
2) The abundance of former players on each side of the matchup.
However, with #1 having already been discussed at length, and #2 becoming less and less interesting with the trade of Setoguchi to Winnipeg, and the slump that Dany Heatley seems to have entered into, let's discuss a brand new topic for these teams.
This Wild team is unlike one the Sharks have faced in a while. Last time these two teams faced off, the Wild had Brett Clark, Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, Cal Clutterbuck, Tom Gilbert, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Replacing them are Keith Ballard, a now-playing-much-better version of Mikael Granlund, former Islander prospect Nino Niederreiter, well-known-villain-turned-"good guy" Matt Cooke, Matt Dumba, and to some extent, Justin Fontaine. Now, that's a lot of words to express one basic idea. The Wild are a faster team than we've seen in the past, they're a deeper team than we've seen in the past, and thanks to some tinkering in Head Coach Mike Yeo's coaching strategies, a much better possession team than we've seen in the past (a little side note on this topic, Yeo has had his team try to carry the puck into the zone more often than dumping it in, so as to make them a better possession team. San Jose already gives up the blue line with regularity, so keep an eye on the Wild players, and how often they'll be carrying the puck into the zone tonight, rather than dump-and-chasing it.). Basically, this is a much more dangerous Wild team than the Sharks have faced in a while, and given the fits the less-good Wild teams have given the Sharks in the past, this should be a very interesting game.
On the Sharks' side of things, this is a pretty big game for Martin Havlat. Assuming he's in the lineup, he's gotta bring his A game today. As has been talked about for a while now, Havlat's game just isn't where it has been the last few years (when he's been healthy that is). Anyone who watches Havlat knows that he's more of a playmaker than a shooter, but through his career, he's tended to generate way more than the measley 1.4 shots per game he's averaging right now (through the rest of his career he's averaged a little over 2.5 shots per game). With Nieto and Hamilton now breathing down his neck, Havlat's either gotta start putting up points, or way more shots if he wants to stay in the lineup on a consistent basis.
According to Behind the Net's Quality of Competition statistics (roughly shows how good the opposition a player is playing against is), Minnesota seems to be deploying a power versus power strategy (1st line versus 1st line, 2nd line versus 2nd line, 3rd line versus 3rd line, etc.) this year, which means either Jumbo or Couture's lines are going to be seeing a lot of Mikko Koivu tonight, while the other will be seeing Charlie Coyle a lot. Pavelski (hopefully with Matt Nieto again) will likely have to go against a very tough line with Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, and whoever fills in the other winger spot on that line for Minnesota. This all leaves Desi's line to defend against the likes of Mike Rupp and Torrey Mitchell. This might be harder than it sounds. After all, we all know how Mitchell is required to score one Mario Lemieux-esque goal per season, and he hasn't done so yet this season. Watch out for that tonight.
PREDICTION: Sharks win 10-1. Martin Havlat becomes inspired after reading this preview, and puts up 100 shots on goal all by his lonesome, scoring zero goals. Matt Nieto, however, scores 10 goals on only 9 shots somehow, because he's just that good. Torrey Mitchell returns the favor against Dan Boyle, and scores an identical goal, somehow bowling his way past speed-demons Brad Stuart and Scott Hannan (assuming they both play tonight).
|19-5-5, 43 points
||17-9-5, 39 points|
|2nd in Pacific
||4th in Central