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Sharks at Predators Preview: Early trip to Music City

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P.K. Subban is gone, Matt Duchene has arrived.

 Mar 16, 2019; San Jose, CA, USA; Nashville Predators left wing Filip Forsberg (9) shoots against San Jose Sharks defenseman Justin Braun (61) in the third period at SAP Center at San Jose. John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The San Jose Sharks (0-3-0) meet the Nashville Predators (1-1-0) for the first time in this young season. Nashville started the season out with a 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild, but then lost to the Detroit Red Wings 5-3 on Saturday.

Nashville is a different team than one we saw in the past. P.K. Subban is now in New Jersey and Matt Duchene has come in to center the second line. Subban was traded before the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and the start of free agency. Our friends at On the Forecheck call it a “panic move” to deal with the salary cap. Subban went to the Devils in exchange for defenseman Steven Santini, prospect Jeremy Davies, a 2019 second-round pick and a 2020 second-round pick. None of them are expected to play in tonight’s game.

Subban’s trade leaves the team without a tested top-four defenseman, but the team’s defense was one of the deepest last season, so it’s still in pretty good shape. The top pairing is anchored by Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, the second pairing is made up of Mattias Ekholm and young Dante Fabbro. Veterans Matt Irwin, Dan Hamhuis and Yannick Webber fill out the bottom pairing.

On offense, Duchene was the biggest add for the team in the off-season. They now have a bonafide top six center to help drive the team’s possession numbers. Duchene and Ryan Johansen are quality 1A, 1B center combinations. Kyle Turris and Nick Bonino, are very capable 3C and 4C options.

The team boasts a dynamic group of forwards including Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Mikael Granlund and Rocco Grimaldi.

Get past all that and you have to compete with veteran goalie Pekka Rinne (30-19-4 in 2018-19) and more than capable backup Juuse Saros (17-10-2 in 2018-19).

Will the return of Evander Kane spark the offense?

Evander Kane will be on the ice tonight after serving his three game suspension for abuse of an official. The Sharks sure could use the offensive firepower.

ESPN’s Emily Kaplan had an interesting stat in her article on Monday, where she says, “Through 33 games this season, we’re at 6.22 goals per game, up from 6.02 last season.” The Sharks account for three of those games and are averaging exactly one goal per game. If scoring across the league is up, it’s not coming from the Sharks.

Some of those issues will be alleviated with the return of Kane, a top-six forward, which is something the Sharks don’t seem to have enough of these days. There’s no doubt that Kane is a talented forward, but the forwards don’t seem to be on the same page through three games, so it will be interesting to see if Kane’s return also brings back some of the chemistry.

Where is the team chemistry?

And that’s the other big question, where is the team chemistry? No one seems to know where anyone else will be on the ice and that’s a concern.

These are the lines that were practicing on Monday. There are more familiar faces than there have been all season, but there are still some questions. If I have one concern, it’s Head Coach Pete DeBoer’s penchant to choose veterans over rookies.

I understand why it’s tempting to choose known quantities like Barclay Goodrow, Lukas Radil and Melker Karlsson, but I didn’t feel like Danil Yurtaykin played any worse than the three of them. According to Natural Stat Trick, Yurtaykin’s Corsi For percentage during Saturday’s Anaheim Ducks game was 53.85. Goodrow’s was 40.91, Radil and Karlsson’s were each 50.

Rookies on Defense

Sharks’s General Manager Doug Wilson traded away Justin Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers to clear some cap space so he could sign Erik Karlsson in the off-season. The idea was that some of the young defensemen on the San Jose Barracuda would be able to make the jump to the NHL. Now, that depth is being tested.

Radim Simek is still at least a week or two away from being ready to play in an NHL game. Dalton Prout is on the Injured Reserved list after Wednesday’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights. Jacob Middleton was called up from the Barracuda and then found himself on the IR list after Friday’s game against the Golden Knights.

While Mario Ferraro looks like he’s locking down his spot on the blue line, the number six spot is still questionable.

Trevor Carrick was next in line, but he had just 7:06 of ice time during Saturday’s loss to the Anaheim Ducks and it looks like he’s still trying to gain DeBoer’s trust. Tim Heed doesn’t have DeBoer’s trust at all and has been passed over again and again for untested rookies. Not only that, but he apparently has an upper body injury and was not practicing on Monday.

Meanwhile, 22-year-old Jeremy Roy and 25-year-old Nick DeSimone are both waiting in the AHL. DeSimone is entering his third full season with the Barracuda and Roy is entering his second full season with the team.

Bold Prediction: I think the Sharks will look better than they did the previous three games, but they’re not there yet. There are issues with the power play and there are issues with chemistry that won’t be ironed out in Nashville. Hopefully, this road trip will force the guys together and they’ll return to San Jose a cohesive unit, but it won’t magically turnaround in Nashville.

Sharks lose, but it will be a closer game than before.

Drop your prediction below. We’ll see you at game time!