Tonight, the Calgary Flames (2-2-1, 4th Pacific) and San Jose Sharks (1-4-0, 8th Pacific) begin what projects to be an ugly season series at the SAP Center in San Jose. Last season, the two teams proved to be evenly matched, splitting the season series with two wins apiece, as both teams scored a total of 16 goals.
The Sharks, fueled by the recent addition of Patrick Marleau, are coming off of their first win of the season, a 5-4 thriller in the Windy City which saw the aforementioned winger find the back of the net twice. While morale is likely to be high on the Sharks bench, coming off of their best performance of the young season, San Jose hasn’t had a smooth beginning to the year, dropping three straight games to divisional opponents (and a fourth to Central Division powerhouse in the Nashville Predators) to begin their 2019-20 campaign.
In short, they’re in a situation where they simply can’t afford to lose to Calgary, the reigning division champion and a team that has been consistently projected to finish ahead of the Sharks in the standings this season.
The Flames come to San Jose playing their second game in as many nights, losing 6-2 in Las Vegas yesterday. The Sharks will have to hope the travel, coupled with bruises from a game against the notoriously physical Vegas Golden Knights, will slow down the Flames, who have started the season with consistent contributions from their top players, and stellar play from their netminder, David Rittich.
Outside of a nasty hiccup against the Golden Knights last night, the Flames have had a great start in net — in their first four games, Rittich, who started in all of them, has posted an excellent .929 save percentage (sv%) and a 2.46 goals against average (GAA). Although this is a small sample size — as all stat lines are at this point in the season — the man nicknamed “Big Save Dave” appears to have largely returned to last year’s pre-injury form at this point, which isn’t great news for San Jose. Fortunately, with Rittich playing last night in Vegas, the Sharks will likely see Cam Talbot, a relatively unknown commodity at this point in his career, in the opposition’s crease.
Will Jones bounce back?
Last year’s league-worst goalie tandem is back, and in three games, Martin Jones, who is set to start in net tonight, has posted a sv% of .854, and a GAA of 4.56. Yes, this is a small sample size, and while Jones’ play hasn’t been as abysmal as his numbers may suggest, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, as Jones has always been a ‘feast or famine’ goaltender. Some nights, we’ll see him allow a goal in the first twenty seconds of a game en route to a quick benching, and others end with him setting the franchise record for saves made in a playoff game; like a box of chocolates, you truly never know what you’ll get.
For better or worse, look for Jones’ performance in net to play a huge role in how many points the Sharks will earn to close out the weekend.
Is tonight the night Tomas Hertl catches a break?
In five games, Tomas Hertl, coming off of a breakout season, has tallied 0 points. That will need to change if the Sharks are to return to their winning ways. While I’m not concerned about any sort of regression on Hertl’s part (talented players go on cold streaks all the time), part of the reason San Jose was able to let Joe Pavelski walk in free agency was due to the emergence of the Czech forward, and it’s clear they’re sorely missing his production, even at the mere five game mark.
Fortunately for Hertl, the tides are sure to turn, as he’s played better than his team’s record would indicate, posting a 55.1 Corsi For percentage (CF%), and a relative Corsi For (CF% rel) of 3.1 percent. Pairing those numbers with his PDO of 89.0 (which tells us he’s been the recipient of significantly lower than average luck) paints a picture of a forward who simply hasn’t hit his stride yet.
The Sharks will have to hope that changes sooner (preferably tonight) rather than later.
Who is Cam Talbot in 2019-20?
While there’s been a lot of talk surrounding David Rittich, goalie Cam Talbot will be one of the X-factors in tonight’s matchup. In his last season with the Edmonton Oilers, Talbot posted mediocre numbers, leading to his eventual mid-season trade to the Philadelphia Flyers, where his numbers saw even further regression. The Flames largely brought in Talbot as a high-upside backup, as his performance in Edmonton (excluding his final 31 games) was decidedly above average. If he can re-capture that level of play, he can effectively challenge Rittich for the starting job (or at least form a dynamic 1A/1B tandem). As this is Talbot’s first regular-season game with Calgary, it’ll be the first real opportunity we get to evaluate him as a member of the Flames, and whether or not a career renaissance looks to be in the cards.
If Talbot can re-elevate his play to the level he maintained while in Edmonton, the Sharks will be at a stark disadvantage in net.
Bold Prediction: The Sharks shrug off their historically poor start and take advantage of a tired Flames squad in another high scoring game, winning 4-3.