The San Jose Sharks (12-8-5) will need to have a short memory and a quick rebound today as they get ready to face the Toronto Maple Leafs (17-8-0) and the possible return of wunderkind Auston Matthews.
Yes, you read that right. Matthews says he’s ready to go after a shoulder injury sidelined him for the last month. Maple Leafs Head Coach Mike Babcock isn’t the kind of guy that reveals his hand until all the bets are in, so he ran yesterday’s practice as if Matthews would not be in the lineup. Unfortunately for the Sharks, Matthews will indeed be making his return tonight.
The Leafs have fared better than okay in Matthews’ absence, going 9-5-0 in that stretch. It’s enough to keep them in third place in the Atlantic Division behind the Tampa Bay Lighting and the division leading Buffalo Sabres.
With or without Matthews, Toronto offers plenty of offensive fire power and a solid netminder in Frederik Andersen. Mitch Marner leads the team with 33 points (6 goals, 27 assists), then there’s John Tavares who leads the team with 15 goals to go along with 13 assists. Defenseman Morgan Rielly has 27 points (9 goals, 18 assists) for the season. He leads the entire league when it comes to defensemen scoring.
If that’s not enough, there’s skilled pest Nazim Kadri of Joe Thornton beard pulling fame. He got under the skin of a lot of Sharks players during the Nov. 15 game at SAP Center. There’s also Patrick Marleau, but I’ll talk about him a little later.
Yeah, the Maple Leafs are packing scoring punch.
As for the Sharks...
I was listening to the Sharks radio broadcast as I taxied my kids around yesterday and a phrase Jamie Baker used stuck out to me: “consistently inconsistent.” Starting at the beginning of this month, the Sharks have lost one, won two, lost two, won two, lost one, won one, lost one, won one, lost two.
There is no streak, good or bad. The Sharks have found their game on one night and failed to find it another night. They have also failed to play a steady 60 minutes on many nights. It’s going to be hard for the team to flip that switch, but it can start tonight in Toronto.
Thanks for the assist, Bakes.
Where’s the scoring at?
The other issue for the Sharks is that guys who were hot earlier in the season, aren’t anymore. Timo Meier has scored exactly one goal in the last nine games. Tomas Hertl has missed half of the month due to injury. In the half that he’s played in, he hasn’t lit the lamp.
Meanwhile, Evander Kane has scored just three goals in the entire month of November. Erik Karlsson only recently found his scoring touch, notching his first goal of the season on Nov. 17.
In other words, some of the guys that were supposed to be relied upon for scoring, just aren’t getting it done.
Say “Hello” to Mr. Ironman
We usually use these sections to talk about the Sharks, but really Marleau will always be a Shark to me. On Monday, Patty celebrated his 1,600th career game. Tonight, it will be 1,601.
Marleau has skated in 733 consecutive games. He’s 39 and still going strong. While his scoring is off pace from year’s past, he’s still making an impact on his team — just ask his coach. In true Babcock fashion, the head coach was a little testy when asked how Marleau has aided in the development of Toronto’s young players like Matthews and Marner.
“You mean like [Kasperi Kapanen] and everyone you’re not hearing about?” Babcock told Sportsnet’s Luke Fox. “Like, everybody. Or any trainer or any coach or anybody who would look like they might be tired that day. Or, I mean, just anybody. He makes you a flat-out better human being just by walking by you.”
It’s a good read if you have an extra minute.
Marleau’s wife also paid tribute on Twitter, showing the lighter side of what it’s like to be a hockey wife.
One of the best things about his longevity is that our boys will remember their dad playing. Another is I still get to sleep like a starfish in the middle of the bed during road trips. https://t.co/i9f8p6Voqw— Christina Marleau (@c_marleau) November 27, 2018
Bold Prediction: Matthews scores a hat trick in his return to play and the Sharks are overwhelmed by the Maple Leafs. A beardless Thornton and Kadri go for round two. It’s a tough road trip. That’s my take on the game, please feel free to discuss amongst yourselves.