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Sharks at Canadiens Preview: Sharks look to finish forgettable trip on a high note

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Stoppable force meets movable object.

Jan 2, 2018; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw (65) scores a goal against San Jose Sharks goalie Aaron Dell (30) during the second period at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The San Jose Sharks (12-10-5, 4th Pacific) have little time to dwell on recent disappointments, as they’re set to take on the Montreal Canadiens (11-9-5, 5th Atlantic) at the Bell Centre this afternoon. The second Canadian team that played well to start the season but has recently slipped back to regression’s fickle clutches in as many days, the Habs were an early surprise success story, winning four of their first six, but have lost five of their last six coming into tonight’s action.

One of these teams will be just what the other needs to right their respective ship tonight, as the Sharks are on a slide of their own, winless since leaving San Jose’s embrace with a 4-0 decision over the Vancouver Canucks. Since then, the Sharks have lost four in a row, most recently dropping a crushing 6-2 game to the hapless Ottawa Senators yesterday afternoon.

On the whole, the Canadiens have surprised most of us by being relatively competitive this season. Buoyed by unexpectedly strong offensive seasons from trade acquisitions Max Domi, Jonathan Drouin and Tomas Tatar, the Habs fought their way to an approaching .500 record before their recent slide. Boosted by the recent return of caveman captain Shea Weber, they are probably looking to the drowning Sharks as an opportunity to get back into the W column, and that feeling should be mutual.

This last game on the Sharks’ current road trip is an opportunity to salvage more than the single point they’ve earned so far. Those four losses have seen San Jose drop from first in the Pacific division to fourth, slipping past the Calgary Flames, Vegas Golden Knights, and the Anaheim Ducks (replete with their -14 goal differential). Considering the general ineptitude of this season’s Pacific division, this trip could have dire consequences if the Sharks don’t make a statement today.

What’s more, injuries have begun to take their toll on an already painfully un-optimized Sharks roster. Swiss phenom Timo Meier has missed the past two games and will likely miss one more, and Joe Thornton, Brenden Dillon and Marcus Sorensen all missed shifts here and there in Ottawa yesterday. Between injuries, questionable lineup decisions, the shaky play of starting (?) goaltender Martin Jones, and a truly brutal travel schedule, the Sharks will be in tight to put up a convincing effort today.

Yesterday’s loss to the Senators could be a wake up call for the Sharks, as they were beaten up and down the ice in most respects by the ostensibly inferior club. The Sens spoiled the homecoming of Erik Karlsson, as Craig Anderson’s strong play in net and former Shark Mikkel Boedker’s four-point night powered the Senators to a decisive 6-2 win at home, their third straight. Jones allowed five goals on 26 shots in the loss, and he’s likely running out of rope to figure out how to get back to his starting goaltender form.

Luckily, backup and to date superior goaltender Aaron Dell will likely be in net, the Sharks have won their last six games against the bleu, blanc, et rouge, and the Habs will be similarly fatigued having bested the New York Rangers last night at home.

That win, a sound 5-2 victory, saw the Canadiens end a five-game losing streak of their own on the back of two first period goals from Weber and two from Artturi Lehkonen. Tatar scored Montreal’s fifth to put the game away, his second point on the night. Hopefully, the team had a very good night celebrating in la belle province, and will be nice and tired this evening.

The last time these two teams met also featured Dell in net, and he did not disappoint, making 30 saves on 31 shots for a 4-1 win on the road. Meier recorded his first two goal game, a feat he’s unlikely to repeat from the scratch column tonight, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Kevin Labanc both recorded two points in the win.

This was true yesterday morning as well, but the Sharks are faced with an opportunity to right the ship, or at least to stop taking on water, as they take on a struggling Canadian franchise to close out their road trip. Fatigue and travel are only acceptable excuses for so long, as the Sharks currently sit outside the playoff picture in the West.

Let’s clean it up today, boys.

Who’s injured this time?

With Meier on the shelf, Thornton, Dillon and Sorensen all missing time yesterday in Ottawa, and Jones slipping well below acceptable in rebound control and lateral movement, it is starting to become apparent that this club may be more banged up than they’d like us to believe. Whether that affects the line up today remains to be seen, but the Sharks will need to get healthy in order to ice a consistently effective line up going forward if they want to dig out of this hole they’ve created.

What does Shea Weber bring to the Canadiens?

After missing 24 games this season (last suiting up in December) with varied foot and ankle injuries and complications therefrom, Weber returned to the Habs’ line up Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. Weber seems to have jumped right into the deep end, recording three shots on goal and an assist in over 25 minutes of ice time on his return, and adding two goals on five shots in just under 24 minutes last night against the Rangers. Weber adds a new and dangerous element to an already dynamic and unpredictable Montreal offense, and the beleaguered Sharks will be hard pressed to contain him if his game is anything close to what we’ve come to expect from him over the years.

What’s happening to Carey Price?

After his .933 save percentage in 2014-15 powered him to Jennings, Lindsay, Vezina and Hart trophies, Price has struggled with injuries that limited him to just 12 starts in 2015-16 and inconsistent play in the years since. Price’s .897 save percentage in 18 starts this season is his worst mark since entering the league in 2007 and, while the league’s emphasis on speed and offense and the new regulations on goalie pads is a factor, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if the aforementioned injuries and age have gotten to the former MVP. If so, the remaining seven seasons after this one of Price’s $10.5 million cap hit may be tough for the club to swallow.

Bold prediction: Always the optimists here at Fear the Fin, the Habs will prove to be just what the doctor ordered for our Sharkos, as Dell powers them to a 3-0 win in Quebec. Cross your fingers, please.

The Sharks come home after tonight’s game, and have a few days to decompress before hosting the Hurricanes on Wednesday. The Canadiens, in turn, host the Senators on Tuesday.