In what could be a preview of this year's Western Conference Final, the San Jose Sharks (42-19-8, 1st Pacific) and the Winnipeg Jets (40-24-4, 1st Central) get set to play their final game of the regular season series.
The Jets took the first game of the season series, a 5-3 win on Dec. 20. The Sharks took the second with a 3-2 overtime win on Feb. 5. The main difference between those two games and today? The trade deadline.
The Sharks added some offensive firepower in Gustav Nyquist. Nyquist is still finding his place in the Sharks’ lineup, but his presence has taken away some of the sting of losing Evander Kane to injury. With Kane still considered day-to-day, Nyquist’s ability to slot in alongside Tomas Hertl and Joonas Donskoi is invaluable.
The Jets added a goal scorer of their own at the trade deadline in Kevin Hayes. Hayes has five points (2 goals, 3 assists) since the trade and looks like he might be heating up. Hayes centers the second line and is flanked by Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers. Up top, the real concern for the Jets is Patrik Laine. After scoring 18 goals in November, he’s gone cold. Laine has 21 points (8 goals, 13 assists) since December. The Jets are stuck trying to figure out what to do to get the second overall pick of the 2016 draft going.
While Laine isn’t firing on all cylinders, his linemate Blake Wheeler is. Wheeler has 83 points (19 goals, 64 assists) this season. Mark Scheifele, who centers that line, leads the team with 32 goals.
Something’s comin’, something good
Because I’m a nerd and it’s the Sharks versus the Jets tonight, I’m going with West Side Story songs as my three keys.
I’m predicting that this game is going to be a lot like the one against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday and yesterday’s win over Minnesota. We’re talking about lots of exciting hockey by two teams that are headed to the postseason. The Jets will be dialed in from the drop of the puck to the final horn.
For the Sharks, they need to be ready. Every now and then, the team throws up a stinker (probably because of fatigue) and this one has all the markings of one of those. This is the Sharks’ third game in four nights and it’s the second day of back-to-back games. Not only that, but there was travel between the two games. The 450-plus miles between Minneapolis and Winnipeg at this time of year is nothing to sneer at.
San Jose will have to be on its toes to come out of Winnipeg with two points.
Just play it cool, boy
The Sharks did a pretty good job in Minnesota of keeping the penalties to a minimum, but the team didn’t do as well against St. Louis on Saturday. The Blues went two for three on the power play during Saturday’s game and that’s a team that’s fourteenth in the league in power play percentage this season.
The Sharks have had a tendency to get into penalty trouble in the past few months, allowing one penalty to follow another. That will not fly against a high flying Jets team. Winnipeg is ranked fifth in the league in power play percentage this season. It’s first unit is anchored by Dustin Byfuglien and includes Scheifele, Wheeler, Connor and Laine. In other words, it has some fire power.
If you’re looking for more details, early in the season Arctic Ice Hockey took a look at the top unit, calling it unstoppable.
San Jose will need to stay out of the box, especially on the second day of back-to-back games when guys are already tired.
Stay loose, boy
I’m guessing that Martin Jones gets a second start tonight just to make sure he’s rounding into form in time for the playoffs. The Sharks are at the top of the Western Conference, for now. I think head coach Pete DeBoer wants to have a little more breathing room in the standings before he gives Jones a rest.
Which is where my third key comes in, stay loose. Jones looks like he was playing his game last night when he shutout the Minnesota Wild and made 24 saves. He wasn’t in his head. If he stays loose tonight, we’ll be just fine.
Bold Prediction: My entire third key is wrong and DeBoer starts Aaron Dell. Dell gets shellacked by the Jets’ offense and panic breaks out in Sharks land. Since I need to offer up a score, I’m going with 6-2 Jets.
What do you think? Drop it below and we’ll see you at game time.