The San Jose Sharks (26-13-7, 2nd Pacific) will attempt to extend their current winning streak to six tonight as they host the rudderless Ottawa Senators (17-23-5, 7th Atlantic). Canada’s Senators are only slightly more productive these days than America’s, and while the Sens surprised some of us early in the season by coming out of the gate with a 4-2-1 record in their first seven contests, they’ve since fallen back to the pack — or well behind it — and currently sit 13 points out of a playoff position. With the Eastern Conference playoff berths all but sewn up already (a six-point gap between the Montreal Canadiens in ninth and the Carolina Hurricanes in tenth is a big barrier), the Senators are left to hope that they can either re-sign or get something of value for Matt Duchene and Mark Stone, and that they do not win the draft lottery, please, merciful Lord, in so many words.
The Sharks are riding a five-game winning streak, and have won seven of their last eight. Zooming out a bit, since their embarrassing 6-2 drubbing at the hands of these very same Senators in Ottawa back on Dec. 1, and its subsequent Very Serious Meetings the next morning, the Sharks have posted an impressive 15-4-1 record, their 30 points in that time period second only to the Tampa Bay Lightning, which is about the best any team of mere mortals can achieve this season.
That run of success has led to the Sharks’ current position: third best in the NHL, just three points behind the Calgary Flames for first in the Pacific Division, and a scant (checks notes) 11 points behind the Bolts for the top spot. Thursday night, the Sharks recorded the 1000th win in franchise history with a 3-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, becoming the third fastest team in NHL history to hit the milestone. Two third period goals in 39 seconds sealed the win and ended Vegas’ winning streak at seven.
The game featured a Martin Jones show — appropriate, as he spent his 29th birthday in Las Vegas, as so many do. Jones made 36 saves, recorded a .929 high danger save percentage, and kept the Sharks competitive during strong Vegas pushes in the first and third. The Sharks’ third line dominated (again), as Tomas Hertl has ten goals and 18 points in his last 19 games, and Joonas Donskoi, with a goal on Thursday, has eight goals in his last seven games. The night was not without its tragedies, however, as the wrong Karlsson showed up on the stat sheet, ending Erik’s historic point streak (I know, I know, it’s not really a streak, but it kind of is) at 14. Melker Karlsson scored his seventh of the season, five of which have come in third periods, which I believe, in traditional hockey parlance, means he’s clutch.
Two very different teams meet tonight. As mentioned above, the Sharks are rolling, and are a team that stands in stark contrast to the sad sacks that stumbled into Kanata six weeks ago on some snowy December afternoon. That team was coming off of three straight road losses, was 3-3-2 in their previous ten games, and was clinging to their playoff lives (as much as one can in December), sitting eighth in the West. Erik Karlsson is back to his old self, fresh off of a 14-game point streak, and is unlikely to be held off of the board against his former team a second time.
The Senators are a different team, too, just based on roster construction. Canada’s capital’s team is dealing with some big name absences, and may need another four-point night from Mikkel Boedker to top the high flying Sharks again. Matt Duchene is away from the team awaiting the birth of his first child, Thomas Chabot will miss his eighth game with an upper body injury sustained at the capable hands of Matt Martin, Colin White was placed on injured reserve last night after a check from Jake Muzzin on Thursday, Ben Harpur was injured the night before in Anaheim and is questionable and starting goaltender Craig Anderson will miss his tenth straight game with a concussion.
Lately, though, NHL journeyman Anders Nilsson has been holding down the Ottawa crease well. In back-to-back wins this weekend over the Ducks and Kings, Nilsson stopped 65 of 67 shots, and is sitting on a tidy .920 save percentage over his last four starts. Acquired on Jan. 2 from the Vancouver Canucks for goaltender Mike McKenna, Tom Pyatt and a sixth round pick, Nilsson has played well behind a porous defense, and at least gives the Senators a chance to be respectable every night.
One quick route to looking respectable this year is to play against the Los Angeles Kings as much as possible. The Senators cruised to a 4-1 win in Los Angeles on Thursday night after winning an overtime thriller in Anaheim the night before. It stands as the first time this season that the Sens have won consecutive road games. Former Shark legend and my close, personal, very-real-and-not-made-up-at-all-but-don’t-ask-him-because-it-is-our-secret best friend, Chris Tierney scored two goals, bringing him up to five points in his last three games, and other former Shark Mikkel Boedker scored his 200th career assist.
It seems likely, however, that this success is just a blip in what is bound to be a lost season for the Senators. In their eight games before those two, the Senators racked up a cumulative one (1) point(s), and currently sit just two points above the Kings in the league’s basement’s basement. Their 174 goals allowed leads (or trails, depending on your perspective) the league, and their six road wins is the second worst. With no first round pick in the coming entry draft, and slim odds of selling Duchene or Stone on a future in Ottawa, the present is bleak and the future is not much brighter.
A win streak, a bad team, a back up goaltender and four former Sharks coming to town? This seems like it has all the trappings of a trap game, but that’s just silly fan superstition.
How are the Senators approaching the trade deadline?
Knowing, as we do, that the Senators are fast approaching contract expiration from perhaps their three most important players, they may well be the most interesting team in the league as we approach this year’s trade deadline. As a team with a strict (and secret, but they’re about as good at keeping secrets as they are at everything else) internal budget, it seems safe to assume that they won’t be rushing to the bank to pay the market value for Duchene, second on the squad in points despite his extended absence, Stone, who leads the team in points and may well get serious Selke Trophy consideration this year, and Anderson, who has played very well behind a disaster of a skater squad all year.
If the Sens plan on trading any or all of these players, shouldn’t they be doing it soon, while teams like Carolina and Vancouver are still telling themselves they have a chance to go for it? The closer we get to the deadline, the fewer buyers there are, and the less they’re likely to get for assets and, as we Sharks fans well know, Ottawa general manager Pierre Dorion needs all the help he can get.
What should we expect from Ottawa’s San Jose line?
In the Senators’ game against the Kings, Chris Tierney scored a goal late in the first period assisted by Mikkel Boedker and Rudolfs Balcers. The Sens’ second line is composed entirely of former Sharks players as, one must assume, a blatant and intentional insult to our faces. While Tierney is on a tear, and Boedker put four points on the board the last time he faced his former club, we may not know quite what the Sharks gave up in Balcers, who likely still has a strong future ahead of him in the NHL. If my subjective and fan poisoned memory is reliable (it is not) former Sharks score an average of seven points on the Sharks every night, so they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
Is this Zack Smith clip a cry for help or performance art?
It pretty solidly encapsulates the Senators’ season, doesn’t it? It’s like a limping elephant: so sad and so endearing at the same time.
Bold prediction: The Sharks charge on, claiming vengeance for their last meeting. Karlsson scores two goals against his former team, Tierney scores one against his and San Jose goes home the victors, 4-1. Pierre Dorion responds by trading Stone and two second round picks to the Buffalo Sabres for Rasmus Ristolainen and a ten dollar gift card to Subway.
The Sharks are back in action Tuesday night when the host the Pittsburgh Penguins at home at 7 p.m. PST, and the Senators will have time to lick their wounds as they head home to host the Colorado Avalanche at 4 p.m. PST.