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Blues at Sharks Preview: A must-win game

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Two teams in the playoff hunt go head-to-head.

Feb 20, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; San Jose Sharks left wing Mikkel Boedker (89) scores against St. Louis Blues goaltender Carter Hutton (40) during the second period at Scottrade Center. Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Sharks have not played since Sunday, which means they’ve had some time to work on their power play. San Jose is a dismal 0 for 28 on the man advantage over the last 12 games; they have not scored a power play goal since February 8.

Head Coach Pete DeBoer doesn’t seem to think there’s a problem with the power play — at least that’s what he told the media after Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets — but you will likely see a different look tonight against the St. Louis Blues.

The Paul Stastny-less Blues (Stastny was traded at the trade deadline to the Winnipeg Jets) are still in the playoff hunt. The Blues are 35-26-5 and are two points out of the second wildcard spot as of this morning. While St. Louis has figured out how to manage without Stastny, the team now has to contend with the injury bug. Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is out for the season with a hip injury, while forward Scottie Upshall is out for at least four weeks with an MCL sprain.

Meanwhile, the Sharks enter tonight’s game with a 35-22-9 record. San Jose currently sits in third place in the Pacific Division, one point back from the Anaheim Ducks. San Jose is for the most part healthy. Melker Karlsson is dealing with a lower-body issue. He missed practice on Tuesday and Wednesday. No word on if he’ll play tonight. Joe Thornton is still on the IR, but Joel Ward is back practicing with the team. He likely won’t be available tonight, but it’s a sign he’s getting better.

Can the Sharks match the Blues desperation?

St. Louis is fighting for its playoff life. Right now the Blues are on the outside looking in, but it’s close. A few points one way or another will be the difference between a postseason and an early tee time. Given that, the Blues will be trying to play every game as if its their last. San Jose will have to match that desperation if they want to go home with the two points.

Truthfully, the desperation should already be seeping into the Sharks’s locker room. While the Sharks were idle, the Ducks swooped in and took over second place in the Pacific Division. With the Los Angeles Kings lurking just two points behind, the Sharks’s margin for error is just as razor thin as the Blues.

Can the Sharks power play finally light the lamp?

We talked about it earlier, but it’s worth going back to. The Sharks power play has been abysmal over the last 12 games, operating at a whopping zero percent. Amazingly, the Sharks are 7-4-1 over that same time period, but things are only get harder from here. Not only is the power play important for claiming those extra points in the stretch run, but it’s going to be doubly important come playoff time.

In the postseason, it’s the special teams that has the power to pull a team through a seven game series. 5-on-5 play is tight, gritty and tough to score in. The man-advantage is where most teams get on the scoreboard. If the Sharks do not fix their power play issues now, they run the risk of going into the postseason cold. A cold power play against the likes of the defensively skilled Los Angeles Kings could mean an early exit.

The Merc’s Curtis Pashelka reports that during practice Kevin Labanc was moved up to the top unit to play alongside Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Evander Kane. The second unit was comprised of Tomas Hertl, Joonas Donskoi, Mikkel Boedker, Timo Meier and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Will Tomas Hertl have a better game?

Hertl had a difficult time during Sunday’s 4-2 loss. DeBoer benched him for part of the third period, a decision Hertl agreed with after the game. The Sharks forward has just one goal and three assists since February 1. The Sharks will need more from him if they want to secure a spot in the playoffs.

Bold Prediction: The Sharks will roll four lines all night and the Blues will fold under the onslaught. San Jose wins and the Blues move on to take their aggression out on the Kings on Saturday.

That’s my two-cents, but we’d love to hear from you. Drop your comments and predictions below as we get ready for game time!