Don’t look now, but the San Jose Sharks (9-10-1, 7th Pacific) have won five in a row, and are one more win away from getting back to a .500 record after their truly horrendous start to the 2019-20 season, led by a suddenly prolific offense that’s averaged 4.6 goals per game over those five after averaging just 2.4 over the course of their first 15 (I’m just kidding, you can look, it’s really quite nice). At first glance, tonight’s match up with the visiting Detroit Red Wings (7-12-2, 8th Atlantic) may look like a typical November battle of the basement snooze fest between two teams ranked 23rd and 30th in the NHL, but both of these squads have played well lately, and there are plenty of other reasons to get up for this one. For whom that play is a sign of things to come and for whom it’s just a temporary bounce of the proverbial dead cat could be partially determined tonight.
The Wings’ are currently on a four-game point streak including regulation wins over the Boston Bruins and Vegas Golden Knights, and overtime affairs against the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, because
hockey doesn’t make any sense parity. While the Red Wings of 2019 are a pale shadow of the legendary Detroit squads of the mid- to late-2000s, there is a fair amount to fear from this team, mostly ensconced in the top line of Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Anthony Mantha. During the team’s four-game point streak, Larkin has recorded 2-2-4 (two goals and two assists for four points), and Bertuzzi and Mantha have put up an impressive 2-4-6 each. The fact that three players have contributed six of the team’s 13 goals during that span should make the Sharks’ strategy tonight pretty clear: shut down the Larkin line and you shut down the Red Wings.
The strategy may not be quite so simple, though, as the Wings have what could be a potent new weapon in former St. Louis Blues forward Robby Fabbri. Acquired in exchange for Jacob de la Rose in a November 6 trade after a tumultuous tenure in a Blue note replete with injuries and healthy scratches, Fabbri hit the ground running in Detroit, recording two goals and two assists in his first three games on a line with Valtteri Filppula (yes, that Valtteri Filppula) and Andreas Athanasiou. Failing to record a point in Detroit’s recent loss to the Kings could be the beginning of the end of Fabbri’s new situation surge, or just an unlucky night; either way, the Sharks should take him seriously.
Lately, though, the Sharks have had a similarly top-heavy contribution scale, led by one Tomas James Hertl, esq. The team’s five-game winning streak is eerily symmetrical to Hertl’s five-game goal streak, one shy of the franchise record set by Owen Nolan back in January 2003. After sustaining an awkward collision on Thursday night in Anaheim, there was some doubt as to whether or not Hertl would be available to play, but it sound like he will draw into the lineup. Hopefully he is as healthy as the team suggests, and he can play at 100 percent capability tonight.
If Logan Couture can handle the Red Wings’ fast and dangerous top line, and Hertl, along with line mates Timo Meier and Barclay Goodrow, can take advantage of Detroit’s injury troubles, lack of effective depth, and road-weariness, we could see the Sharks back at the .500 mark for the first time this season (remember, NHL .500 is not particularly impressive what with points earned in losses and all that (only nine teams last season landed underneath it), but the Sharks only have one loser point this season, so a 10-11 record is still approaching even play), and may be able to start talking about the playoffs as an achievable dream, and what is life if not an opportunity to dream?
Expected scratches: Noah Gregor (2 fast 2 play), Tim Heed (kicked Pete DeBoer’s dog or something I don’t know)
Injured reserve: Dalton Prout (upper body)
After returning to the Sharks’ lineup for one game, Prout is back on the injured list with an upper body injury. While we’re understandably glad to see Mario Ferraro draw back into the lineup (probably) after sustaining an undisclosed injury during a November 7 contest with the Minnesota Wild, concussions are scary and serious, so we hope that Prout’s current injury isn’t related to the head trauma that had kept him out of the lineup since the season opener on October 2, and that he’s healthy before too long.
Tyler Bertuzzi — Dylan Larkin — Anthony Mantha
Robby Fabbri — Valtteri Filppula — Andreas Athanasiou
Brendan Perlini — Frans Nielsen — Adam Erne
Darren Helm — Christoffer Ehn — Luke Glendening
Dennis Cholowski — Mike Green
Jonathan Ericsson — Madison Bowey
Alex Biega — Dylan McIlrath
Expected scratches: Joe Hicketts, Taro Hirose
Injured reserve: Danny DeKeyser (lower body), Trevor Daley (lower body), Justin Abdelkader (mid-body), Patrik Nemeth (infection), Filip Hronek (lower body)
After sustaining a hand injury back on October 25, Glendening is probable to return to the lineup tonight, ending the Hirose for president campaign before it really got off the ground. Bernier has played well in the Wings’ crease tonight, but Howard’s solid resume gives him seniority, and he’s expected to man the pipes in San Jose.
Where to watch
Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. PT / 10:30 p.m. ET at SAP Center in San Jose and will be broadcast in the Bay Area on NBC Sports California and in Motor City on Fox Sports Detroit. For radio broadcasts if your driving a car or working an assembly line or building a car or listening to the State of the Union some other anachronistically radio-centric activity, tune into 98.5 KFOX. Technophiles can stream audio through the Sharks + SAP Center app or video through NHL.tv in exchange for regular human currencies.