Somehow, the Sharks are sitting second in the Pacific right now, ten full points behind the Vegas Golden Knights. Every part of that sentence sounds fake.
To be fair, they’re tied with the Calgary Flames, and the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks are only a single point back before another ten point drop to the sixth place Edmonton Oilers. God, the Pacific Division is a mess.
Speaking of a mess, the Sharks suffered a pretty embarrassing loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday. They didn’t show up until halfway through the game, nearly pulling off a comeback from a four goal deficit, but falling just short as Former Shark and Long Beach Native Matt Nieto put the game out of reach.
But hey, Colorado had a hot goaltender in Jonathan Bernier. It seems as though the Sharks will have the NHL’s hottest back-up starting tonight. Troy Grosenick has been called up from the Barracuda, signalling that Aaron Dell will likely be starting tonight. Martin Jones is listed day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are coming in hot, fresh off a victory over the Los Angeles Kings. While there’s nothing we love more than the Kings losing, Pittsburgh handing them the loss isn’t much better.
Two extended post-seasons in a row may finally be causing the Penguins to break. They’ve had a hard-fought year, made no easier by the period of time that another Former Shark, Antti Niemi, was minding the crease for them. Losing Marc-Andre Fleury has hit the Penguins hard. Right now, they’re also without the services of Matt Murray, who is taking time off due to the loss of his father. Hockey aside for a moment — we genuinely wish him the best as he grieves. There’s no easy way to cope with the death of a parent.
Tristan Jarry, another young goaltender at just 22-years-old, will be in net for the Penguins. He’s sitting on a 9-4-2 record with a .919 save percentage.
As once would expect from a team who employs Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh’s offense is the deadliest part of their game. They’re leading the league in shots, averaging 34.6 per game, and their power play is converting 26.9 percent of the time, another area where they top the league.
And yet, they’re fifth in the Metropolitan Division, their tie with the New York Rangers at 53 points putting them in the second Wild Card spot. Granted, the Metro is stacked, but the Pittsburgh is also allowing the sixth highest number of shots on goal. There will be plenty of opportunity for the Sharks to take advantage.
Did the Sharks learn from the Stanley Cup Final?
Two things plagued the Sharks in their quest for the Cup two years ago. First, they looked slow. With some of the dead weight of that roster dropped, and the Sharks looking just a bit younger, guys like Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier, Joakim Ryan, Joonas Donskoi, and Tomas Hertl can be the difference makers if they pick up the pace.
Secondly, the defense needed depth. Roman Polak did the Sharks no favors. But with three functioning defense pairs, the Sharks might be able to not only shut down Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but also players like Phil Kessel, who is leading the Penguins with 54 points right now.
Can the offense take advantage of a weak Penguins defense?
If the Penguins are allowing 30.3 shots per game, I’m fine with them continuing that trend. Jamie Oleksiak is their own personal Roman Polak and I can’t wait to see Logan Couture skate circles around him.
Brent Burns is leading the Sharks with a scary 190 shots on goal. Next up is Joe Pavelski with 115, Meier with 112, Hertl with 106, and Logan Couture rounding out the top five with 103. You’ll notice a couple of those guys are the aforementioned speedy youth. They can find the cracks in the Penguins defense and capitalize.
How will Aaron Dell hold up?
There’s no denying the Sharks have sheltered Aaron Dell’s starts and he is looking like the best back up goalie in the league right now. Martin Jones is day-to-day and in a schedule that’s seeing the Sharks play every other day, Dell is going to get into some tougher assignments. Starting against the Penguins is a big one and it’ll be a big test for the world’s okayest goalie.
Bold Prediction: Someone will get a game misconduct. Between Crosby, noted goon Ryan Reaves, and Kris Letang, there will be plenty of cringe-worthy play and it’s gonna get messy. Hold onto your butts.
Check back later for line ups and tonight’s discussion thread!