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Sharks at Avalanche Preview: Nathan MacKinnon, good at hockey

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Let’s visit our favorite Long Beach Native in the mountains.

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Despite two of their last three (and four of their last six) games going into an extra frame, the San Jose Sharks are cruising right now, picking up all six points in their last three games. That’s not to say the Sharks are playing perfectly — two of those games were against the basement dwelling Arizona Coyotes and both of them went into overtime — but following up a three game losing streak with a three consecutive wins evens things out a bit.

The last week has been weird for the Sharks, okay? Coming off their bye week, they’ve had to immediately jump into a compressed schedule, with eight games over thirteen days between the bye week and the All-Star Break, and four of them on the road while they never have more than a single day off between games.

Following their victory in Arizona on Tuesday, the Sharks headed to Colorado to meet the Avalanche for the first time this season, having last played each other almost a full calendar year ago.

What a calendar year it’s been for the Avs. After finishing dead last in the league and only earning 48 points, the Avalanche didn’t even get the consolation prize of Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick. To top it all off, Matt Duchene checked out about a season and a half ago, finally getting moved to the Ottawa Senators.

And yet, the Avs have started strong on their comeback, thanks largely to Nathan MacKinnon, who is dragging this team kicking and screaming into playoffs whether they like it or not. The 22-year-old (anyone else weirded out by Kevin Labanc being the same age as Mackinnon?) has an incredible 54 points in 43 games so far this year, putting him third in the scoring race across the league, six points shy of Nikita Kucherov in one fewer game. Because of Mackinnon, the Avalanche are the number one shooting percentage team in the NHL and are ranked fifth in goals, averaging 3.28 goals per game.

While the offense is strong, there’s wiggle room in the defense. Colorado is 20th in shots on goal allowed (32.2) and 19th in goals allows (2.91). If the Sharks can make the best of their chances at 5-on-5, they can maybe crack Jonathan Bernier.

Can the Sharks shut down Nathan MacKinnon?

This is the question. As we saw earlier in the season, shutting down the likes of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov is far easier said than done. MacKinnon has eight points in his last five games. The kid is going on a tear and keeping him from putting pucks on net seems like an insurmountable test. Good luck, Pickles.

Will the Sharks win the special teams battle?

The Avalanche haven’t just built up an impressive 5-on-5 offense — they’ve also pulled together a ninth-best power play, converting 20.9 percent of the time. The Sharks have the edge on the man advantage, with a fifth overall power play that works 23.0 percent of the time.

But on the penalty kill, the Avs are the one with the advantage, albeit minuscule. They capitalize 84.5 percent of the time compared to the Sharks’ fourth-best 84.4 percent.

When it comes to special teams, it will be a tight battle. The best bet is going to be staying out of the box.

Can the Sharks maintain pressure through all three periods?

Third periods aren’t going the Sharks’ way lately, which is partly why so many games have gone to overtime.

Exhaustion seems like an obvious factor. This aging team barely has time to breathe before they have to be back on the ice and it’s only going to get worse through the five games over the next eight days. A consistent effort will help the Sharks maintain leads (hello, Arizona) and keep them in games they’re capable of winning (hello Ottawa).

Bold prediction: “Long Beach Native” count, minimum of three mentions. I think we’re far enough removed from losing Matt Nieto that betting on Randy Hahn still mentioning it three times feels bold.

Check back later for the game thread, line up, and healthy scratches and leave your bold prediction for the game below!