With the trade deadline just around the corner, it’s strange that there are teams the San Jose Sharks (35-17-7, 2nd Pacific) still haven’t seen this season. The Boston Bruins (34-17-8, 2nd Atlantic) are rolling into town for the first time tonight, kicking off the season series that will conclude next Tuesday in Boston.
For the Sharks, now is the best time for them to be meeting against these heavyweight teams. They’re rolling, with just one loss in February and four total losses in the New Year. Fresh off a surprisingly hard-fought 3-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, the Sharks are feeling pretty good going into the final game in this homestand.
Most importantly, they’re finally healthy, after a series of injuries to the blueline over the last two months. Erik Karlsson made his return against the Canucks, skating nearly 25 minutes and notching an assist on a goal from Timo Meier.
The Bruins aren’t too different, with nearly identical records on the season. The Bruins had a bit of a tougher January, dropping six games (three in overtime or shootout), but so far in February, they’ve lost just one game, in a shootout against the New York Rangers. They’ll be looking for the California sweep after shutting out the Anaheim Ducks 3-0 on Friday and beating the Los Angeles Kings 4-2 on Saturday.
Just like the Sharks, they’ve got a healthy roster and they’re heating up at the right time. Though the Tampa Bay Lightning are running away with the Atlantic title and Presidents’ Trophy with an unreal 92 points, the Bruins’ 76 points would put them in contention for top of the Pacific Division and Western Conference. The East is strong right now and they’ve still fought their way to third in the conference.
It’s also worth noting that these two teams didn’t see each other for all of 2018. They closed out the series early last season, losing both games in October and November. The Sharks only scored once in both games, thanks to Timo Meier and Joe Thornton.
This could get ugly.
Dominate versus Depth
The Bruins have big names that know how to score. Brad Marchand is leading the pack with 23 goals and 47 assists on the season. Behind him is All-Star David Pastrnak (31 goals, 35 assists) and Patrice Bergeron (21 goals, 34 assists). Those three players are the only ones to crack 50 points so far, with David Krejci one tally away from joining them. Only one player in addition to those four has cracked double digits in goals this year (Jake Debrusk). While the Bruins have a top line that is scary and completely dominate, their depth sits back on their heels.
This is an unfamiliar concept to the 2018-19 Sharks. Six players have 50 or more points and 10 have 10 or more goals. Nearly every player with 30 or more games with the Sharks this season has double digit points (Antti Suomela, Radim Simek, and Joakim Ryan are the exceptions).
Every line on the Sharks has a threat. That’s not necessarily the case for the Bruins, especially factoring in that Pastrnak is still out with a broken thumb. Home ice makes for a match up battle heavily in the Sharks’ favor.
So long and thanks for the starting goaltender
In 2015, the Bruins gifted the Sharks one wide-eyed goaltender in the form of Martin Jones, in a spectacular move that allowed both organizations to give a middle finger to the Kings and also saddle them with a year of Milan Lucic before he left to ruin the Edmonton Oilers.
While that worked out well for the Sharks in 2016, where playoff Martin Jones became a thing, that consistency in the regular season hasn’t quite happened. This year in particular has been rough for Jones, who is saving 9.36 goals below average (per Evolving-Hockey) with an .899 save percentage.
Meanwhile, in the Bruins’ crease, Tuuka Rask has a .920 save percentage, but is just above the break of goaltenders with a net positive Goals Saved Above Average, averaging 2.08.
The difference is that Martin Jones has faced over 300 more shots than Rask. Rask is a streaky goaltender that is performing well right now. But against a high shot volume team like the Sharks, there will be plenty of opportunities to test him.
Since the new year, the Bruins have had six games go to overtime or a shootout. Five of them were out of division, and three were out of conference. They lost two shootouts and two in overtime.
The Sharks have sent three games to overtime in the last two months and won them all. One was out of conference, one out of division.
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that when a game is tied against an out of conference opponent, it is more likely to go to overtime, because both teams would rather have the guaranteed point and give away a loser point to a team that won’t affect their standings than lose out on any points all together.
A fairly evenly matched team, out of conference, with both teams heading to overtime lately? Seems like a recipe for loser points.
That said, the Sharks are good in overtime, thanks to the deadly offense from their defense. So if it comes to that, they stand a good chance to be the ones handing out the loser point, not taking it home.
Bold Prediction: Joe Thornton sticks it to his old club with a five-point night and breaks the Sharks free of the curse of Boston.