The San Jose Sharks (30-16-7) made the entire city of Winnipeg explode last year with the comment that it is the worst NHL city to play in. The Winnipeg Jets (34-16-2) had the last laugh in that game, though, winning 4-1. Tonight the Sharks head back to the "cold and dark" city of Winnipeg to show them who's boss. This could be a potential postseason preview, as the Jets lead the Central Division.
The San Jose Sharks are coming off a long All-Star break. Prior to playing on Saturday, the Sharks hadn’t hit the ice as a team since Jan. 22, where they found an overtime win over the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, the Washington Capitals. Saturday’s return against the Arizona Coyotes was an interesting one. It started out slow, going scoreless in the first period. The Desert Dogs struck first, but Kevin Labanc and Joe Pavelski responded, giving the Sharks a 2-1 lead. The Coyotes were taking shots, going as far to score a tying goal that would be waved off. Josh Archibald went on to score in the third, tying it up for real this time. Brent Burns took overtime into his own hands, scoring the winning goal.
The Sharks are going to have to come into form faster when they head to Winnipeg. The Jets are coming off a 9-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks. Before the Sharks defeat them tonight, we should thank them for the gift they gave the Sharks on Saturday, keeping Anaheim out of the playoff hunt. This game saw production from players who haven’t had much of an impact this season. Jack Roslovic, who had four goals and eight assists going into the game, notched a hat trick and an assist. Bryan Little got on the board twice. Andrew Copp scored his fourth goal, Brendan Lemieux scored his seventh and points leader Blake Wheeler had a goal. This could simply showcase just how bad the Anaheim Ducks are, or show that the Winnipeg Jets are finding their second-half groove. I think it’s probably a combination of the two. I mean, the Ducks are really bad.
The Sharks have had a tough run against Winnipeg. The last time these teams met was a 5-3 Sharks loss in December at SAP Center.
Special teams showdown?
The Sharks have to be careful on the power play tonight. The Jets have scored six goals this season while shorthanded. While they’re okay shorthanded, they also have allowed 30 goals while on the penalty kill this season (League average is 32). Dustin Byfuglien leads the team in penalty minutes with 54. Their special teams match up pretty closely with the Sharks. San Jose has scored five goals shorthanded goals as well as 38 goals on the power play this season, while allowing 27 goals on the penalty kill. Two teams who have players known to take penalties, (hello Evander Kane) with similar power play numbers could lead to the battle of the special teams.
Brent Burns versus Blake Wheeler?
Both Brent Burns and Blake Wheeler are the points leaders of their respective teams. The way they’ve both acquired points this season is pretty similar. Brent Burns has ten goals and 47 assists for the Sharks, while Blake Wheeler has ten goals and 54 assists. There is a good chance we will see this incredible passers share the ice tonight. The defense has to stand strong against Wheeler, keeping an eye on his every move. Though he only has ten goals, he is dangerous with the puck. He is a top point-producer who should be stopped at all costs.
Whose net is it anyway?
I’m going to put money on Connor Hellebuyck in net for Winnipeg. Hellebuyck has eight wins in his last ten games and 24 on the season thus far. His .910 save percentage is underperforming from last year's Vezina finalistseason last year, where he posted a .924, but he's managed to get back on track. He is one of the top goalies in the league, not going below an .897 save percentage in his last ten games. He is really hot right now and I would be surprised to not see him between the pipes tonight.
As for the Sharks, I’m sure we’ll see Martin Jones in net tonight. Goaltending has been an area of concern for the Sharks this season, but Martin Jones also has 24 wins on the season. His save percentage is a bit lower at .896, but he has proven he can stand strong between the pipes. It’ll be an interesting and important game tonight.
Bold prediction: The Sharks will win 4-1 and Brent Burns will have an assist on every goal just to spite Wheeler.