Once upon a time, the San Jose Sharks (9-10-1) and the Detroit Red Wings (7-12-2) were bitter rivals who clashed time and time again in the playoffs, struggling to see which powerhouse would continue on to compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup. Less than 10 years later, both teams are simply trying to claw their way out of the NHL’s basement.
On the bright side, they’re both trending in the right direction. The Red Wings are 3-1-1 in their last five games, while the Sharks are riding a five-game win streak. Trouble is, neither team is over that coveted .500 mark 20 games into the season.
The Wings are coming off of a 3-2 overtime loss on Thursday to the Los Angeles Kings — one of the only teams in the NHL with a worse record than San Jose and Detroit. The Kings’ Alex Iafallo scored 23 seconds into overtime. Detroit beat the Anaheim Ducks 4-3 in overtime on Tuesday, so San Jose will be the Red Wings’ last stop on the California tour.
Detroit’s top scorer this season is Anthony Mantha, who leads the team with 21 points and 11 goals. Close behind Mantha is Tyler Bertuzzi, nephew of former Red Wing Todd Bertuzzi. Tyler Bertuzzi has 20 points (8 goals, 12 assists) this season. There are only two other players in Detroit’s lineup that have double digit points a quarter of the way through the season. Dylan Larkin has 16 points and defenseman Filip Hronek has 10 points.
Hronek left the game in Los Angeles after blocking a shot and did not practice with the team on Friday.
No Filip Hronek at today’s Red Wings practice in San Jose, not surprising given how he limped yesterday. Hurt blocking shot.— Helene St. James (@HeleneStJames) November 15, 2019
Also expected to miss tonight’s game are Luke Glendening, Patrik Nemeth and Justin Abdelkader.
The Red Wings' surge recently might be attributed to the addition of a young forward who needed a fresh start. Earlier this month they traded Jacob De La Rose to the St. Louis Blues for Robby Fabbri. Fabbri has already made an impact with the Wings, notching two goals and two assists in four games.
Detroit is averaging 2.29 goals per game this season, so it is very, very possible for the Sharks to keep the Red Wings below that coveted two goals or fewer mark.
When it comes to goaltending, the Red Wings are in the same boat as the Sharks this season. They’re both are receiving subpar goaltending from a former Los Angeles Kings’ prospect. Jonathan Bernier has a 5-4-2 record with 3.17 goals against average and .892 save percentage. Backup Jimmy Howard is looking even worse with a 2-8-0 record, 3.99 goals against average and .887 save percentage.
The opportunity is there for the Sharks.
The big question for the Sharks is will Tomas Hertl be ready to play tonight. If you missed it Hertl was injured in a seemingly inconsequential play in the third period on Thursday.
Steel runs into Hertl late in 3rd period, Hertl goes to locker room, still hasn't returned pic.twitter.com/wV1Caxxj0g— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) November 15, 2019
Number 48 did not return to the ice that night.
Just talked with Tomas Hertl. He said it’s nothing serious with his knee. Might be an option to play tomorrow, but will be cautious. Was planning to see a team doctor this afternoon #SJSharks— Curtis Pashelka (@CurtisPashelka) November 15, 2019
Curtis Pashelka of The Mercury News says there’s nothing to worry about, but as a Sharks’ fan with knowledge of Hertl’s injury history, I’m a little worried.
Hertl is part of a dynamic second line that includes Barclay Goodrow and Timo Meier. Before he went down in the third, the line was dominating play with a 73.55 corsi for percentage at score- and venue-adjusted 5-on-5 play (thanks, Natural Stat Trick). The line generated 10 shots on goal in a game where the Sharks only had 35 shots on goal. That’s nearly a third of the shots by the Sharks.
This line was finally clicking and it would be a shame to see them lose momentum if Hertl is out for a considerable amount of time.
Best versus worst
This is a chance for the Sharks to shine on special teams. San Jose has the 14th best power play in the league, operating at 20.9 percent, while Detroit’s power play is ranked 22nd with a 16.4 percent success rate.
The big difference here is that San Jose’s penalty kill is first in the league at a 90.8 percent kill rate. Detroit, meanwhile, has the worst kill in the league — yes, 31 out of 31 — operating at a 70.8 percent kill rate. San Jose also has four shorthanded goals this season and Detroit has allowed three shorties this season.
Barring any unforeseen issues, Erik Karlsson will suit up for game number 700 of his career tonight. So far this season, Karlsson has not looked like a player the Sharks want to pay $11 million per year, but if you read Sheng Peng’s article you’ll find that it may take a little time for EK65 to get to that 11 million dollar man status again, but it’s possible.
There have been flashes recently of the Karlsson that can take a game over with his play. He has six assists in seven games this November, but more than that, he’s a plus-six through that stretch. Karlsson looks like he’s turning it up and game number 700 may be one of his better ones in a Sharks’ uniform.
Plus, he’s starting to get the hang of that dad thing too!
Bold Prediction: Whether it’s Howard or Bernier in net, I think San Jose will light the lamp multiple times tonight. Couture will net at least a pair of those. He’s ready to heat up and that goal against the Ducks just opened the floodgates.
Drop your prediction below and we’ll see you at game time.