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Sharks at Devils Preview: Can the Sharks crack Kinkaid?

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New Jersey is the last truly-undefeated team in the league.

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 20: Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 20, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey. The Sharks shutout the Devils 3-0. Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Somehow, the New Jersey Devils have only played two games over a week into the season, and they’ve won both of them. They’re the Sharks’ next opponent to end the early East Coast road trip. Both teams last played on October 11, where the team that wasn’t anticipated to win, did. The Devils shut out the Washington Capitals and scored six goals just for fun. Meanwhile in Madison Square Garden, the New York Rangers got their first win of the season in overtime against the Sharks.

Since dropping out of the first round of playoffs in five games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Devils have been quiet. Over the summer, they lost several players, including Brian Gibbons, Michael Grabner, Patrick Maroon, Drew Stafford and John Moore. The Devils gained defenseman Eric Gryba and goaltender Eddie Lack, making for a lop-sided off-season, with the Devils hoping for solutions from within.

Although the Devils’ biggest asset is Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall, the team can’t allow their offense to rest solely on his shoulders. His 93 points last season were 41 points more than the next leading scorer on the team, Nico Hischier — the only other player to score more than 50 points. But in six goals against Washington and five against Edmonton, both Hall and Hischier have yet to net their first of the year.

The Sharks end the road trip similarly to how they started it: playing at 10 in the morning Pacific Time. Why must the NHL wake us up before noon?

Powerful Possession

The Sharks and Devils are the top-two teams in the NHL’s possession metric, shot attempts percentage when the score is close. Both have a 64 percent or higher. In 5-on-5 Corsi for the Sharks are supreme in the league at 62.63 percent (per Natural Stat Trick). The Devils take fifth with 57.56 percent (Obligatory “this is a small sample size” reminder). An interesting note on the Corsi numbers: the Sharks have played 228 minutes at full strength, while the Devils have played 97 and a half. The Devils’ special teams have seen, proportionally, more time on ice.

Individually, Hall has a 58.62 Corsi for percentage so far. He’s the only Devils forward with over 30 5-on-5 minutes played. Forwards Marcus Johansson (26:55) and Nico Hischier (27:43) both lead him in Corsi for with over 63 percent each.

All the Sharks are above 50 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5. Antti Suomela currently leads with a great 74.31 percent over 53.5 minutes. Kevin Labanc is also up there, with 66.19 percent in almost 64 minutes. Of the major Sharks forwards, Logan Coture’s Corsi for is the lowest at 55.91 percent.

Good Kink

Keith Kinkaid has started both games in goal for the Devils and played really, really well. With his shutout of the Capitals, his goals against average (GAA) is down to 1, and his save percentage (Sv%) is .950 on 40 shots (Obligatory “this is a small sample size” reminder). His career GAA is 2.68, and his career Sv% is .913. Last season, he played 41 games to post a 2.77 GAA and .913 Sv%. That half-season is the largest NHL sample size we have; he’s been steadily playing more games every year since the 2012-13 season, when he played 26 minutes against Tampa in March 2013. With Cory Schneider recovering from hip surgery, Kinkaid is the Devils’ starter and he’s doing well at it.

Kinkaid saw the Sharks in both matchups last season, losing once and having no decision in the other game. He posted an .886 save percent with a 3.37 goals-against average in those two games. That’s much more beatable; let’s hope the Sharks can find his weak spots again this season.

Turn the Trend

As noted in our recent Quick Bites, the Sharks keep throwing tons of shots on good goalies—and the good goalies do what good goalies do, save a lot of them. Kinkaid, at this point in the season, counts as a hot goalie. But it’s more than that. The Devils have currently allowed the fewest shots on goal, averaging just 20 shots between the Capitals and Oilers. That spells out the exact situation that has been frustrating the Sharks to start the year.

The part of the trend where the Sharks put up lots of shots is good. What’s even better is that lots of their shots have been consistently coming from high danger areas. The part that needs to change is where they end up losing due to a hot goalie.

The good news is that while the Devils are allowing the fewest shots on goal, the Sharks are putting up the second-most in the league, averaging 38.4 shots. And while the Devils have a seemingly high-offense, they’re currently shooting at 17.5 percent — the highest shooting percentage in the league. That’s bound to regress. The Sharks aren’t far behind the Devils in shots allowed, averaging 25.2 for fifth in the league.

If the Devils continue their streak, this might be one of the most evenly matched games the Sharks have played so far.

Bold prediction: The Sharks pitch a shutout. But I probably just jinxed it by hoping for it so far before the game.

The Sharks will have three days off when they get back home.