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Sharks at Senators Preview: This should be Dell-icious

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Just win, baby!

NHL: Ottawa Senators at San Jose Sharks Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Last night was a rough one for the Sharks. They pulled out a single point by taking the Maple Leafs all the way to a shootout, where they were unable to crack goaltender Frederik Andersen. Once regulation ended, that game seemed to slog by, and why not? The Sharks were guaranteed a point and they had to then turn around and head to Ottawa. Not much of a reason to exhaust themselves in overtime.

They’ll need to come in hot against the Senators tonight, but that shouldn’t be too much of a task. The seventh place in the Atlantic Senators are on a two-game losing streak and have lost four of their last five.

It hasn’t been an easy year for the Senators. After surprising everyone with a stand-out playoff run last year that could have taken them to the Stanley Cup Final if not for fifteen players playing through injuries, the Sens have struggled to find their footing. Trading for Matt Duchene didn’t seem to solve their woes, as he’s all but disappeared as of late, with only one point (a goal in their win over the Blue Jackets) in their last five games. The good news for the Sharks is that Brent Burns isn’t the only scoring defenseman who can’t seem to find the back of the net; Erik Karlsson has only three goals so far this year. That’s half as many as Burns and the same number Duchene has scored since being traded.

If tonight comes down to a special teams battle, the Sharks should have no problem taking off with a win. The Senators’ penalty kill ranks 28th in the league at 77.3 percent and their power play sits at 25th with a 15.6 percent conversion. Easy pickings for the Sharks’ new-and-improved seventh best power play (21.2 percent) and second best penalty kill (84.9 percent).

Last time these two teams met, Aaron Dell went home with a shut out, while the Sharks put up an impressive 50 shots on goal, getting five of them past Craig Anderson. It was one of the most complete games the Sharks have played this season, with contributions through out the line up and goals from Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Melker Karlsson, Joe Pavelski, and Tomas Hertl. More of that, please.

As the Sharks hit the back end of their Canadian road trip, here are three questions facing them tonight in Ottawa:

Can the big guns break through?

Last night, big names were held off the scoresheet and it wasn’t for lack of trying. Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton have finally started to look like their old selves, after starting the season playing through major injuries. Timo Meier is a welcome addition to that top line, but is still searching for consistency. Logan Couture hasn’t scored a goal in the three games since his return from a concussion. Brent Burns broke his scoring slump, but is hit or miss in how he looks on the ice. Joonas Donskoi, Tomas Hertl — any of these guys can be a game changer.

That’s not to disparage any of these players, but ultimately, the top guys have to produce and that didn’t happen against a weak Toronto defense last night. That can’t happen again tonight.

How close are the Sharks to a goalie controversy?

Aaron Dell is expected to make an appearance in net tonight. Pete DeBoer has been playing Dell more frequently against teams he’s won against in the past, but he’s also utilizing Dell more often on back-to-backs. Since Martin Jones’ brief injury earlier in the season, the coaching staff seems to have given Dell a longer leash and for good reason. The 28-year-old goaltender has an 8-3-1 record this year and a .934 save percentage.

If the Senators find a way to pull out their offense, Dell will be able to handle himself between the pipes. A great night for him could push the conversation on goaltending.

Can the Sharks keep from being complacent?

The Sharks seemed fine with taking away one point in Toronto last night and if it was for the larger goal of being prepared for the rest of this weekend... I don’t love it, but fine, I get it. But they can’t make a trend of being complacent.

The Senators are, by every measure, a very bad team. If the Sharks go into tonight expecting an easy win, that laziness can just as easily backfire. No good will come from playing from behind or tied against a team they know is bad. Don’t even give that frustration the chance to build.

Bold prediction: Joonas Donskoi will have a four point night. He worked so hard against the Maple Leafs last night and they were able to hold him off of the scoreboard. Maybe tonight he gets rewarded.

You can check back later for projected lines and tonight’s game discussion thread. If you’ve got a bold prediction of your own, drop it in the comments below.