Tonight, the San Jose Sharks (21-25-4, 6th in Pacific) kick off the unofficial second half of their season against an old rival: the Anaheim Ducks (19-24-5, 7th in Pacific). This will be their third meeting of the year, and the first at the SAP Center. The clubs split the first two games in Anaheim, with the Ducks earning a 3-1 win in October and the Sharks claiming victory in a 5-3 contest a month later. Following tonight’s game, they’ll meet a final time in San Jose, as the Sharks close out their regular season.
The Sharks, who lost their last three games prior to the All-Star break, will have to hope the time they had off served to rejuvenate some of their players, as their performance during their recent losing streak was difficult to watch. Over the course of that stretch, they were out-scored 14-4, with players looking disinterested and lethargic on the ice.
The Ducks, however, will look to build on the way they played prior to the break, stringing together two straight wins after suffering four consecutive losses. They’ll have plenty to play for tonight, trailing the Sharks for 6th in the Pacific Division by a mere three points, while having played two fewer games. Regardless of their place in the standings, they’ll be focused on pushing for the playoffs until they’re eliminated from contention; tonight’s game against the Sharks presents an excellent opportunity for them to set themselves up for the latter half of the season.
Fire into the Void
When previewing the Sharks’ most recent game, a 4-1 loss in Vancouver, I detailed the importance of generating shots. The Sharks, who I’m sure were reading, must have somehow glossed over that section, and generated only 18 total shots on goal that night — a number that looks even worse when considering that 11 of those came in the third period, a period in which they were out-scored 3-1.
For San Jose to get back in the win column, both tonight and moving forward, they’ll need to generate significantly more offense, and that starts with actually making the opposing netminder stop the puck.
No Special Ammunition
The Ducks, who score the league’s second-fewest goals-per-game (2.46), and possess the 28th ranked power play, aren’t the type of team who rely on their offense to win them games. This provides the Sharks, who have gotten solid play from goaltender Aaron Dell of late, with a unique opportunity to lock down an anemic offense — something that may lead them to a win, while also serving to build confidence and momentum that they can carry with them into the season’s second half.
Though the Sharks aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut, ranking 28th in goals for per game, they’d do well to bait a rusty Anaheim team into a low scoring affair in front of the rabid, hockey-starved fans at the SAP Center. That being said, San Jose will need to ensure they don’t give the Ducks any ‘special ammunition’ in the form of mentally lazy miscues or power-plays stemming from a lack of discipline or effort. While this may seem like a routine ask, essentially every player on the ice has been away from the game for the last week or so, and unfortunately, certain players may struggle to snap out of vacation mode. Let’s hope that if that’s the case, they’re wearing orange.
Who emerges from the goaltending crucible?
Aaron Dell may have our focus lately, given that he’s earned Boughner’s trust, but the possibility remains we see Martin Jones in net for the Sharks. Although Dell has been the presumptive starter of late, it’s no secret the front office would prefer Jones re-find his game — not only does he appear to have a higher ceiling than Dell, his cap hit and contract length make him decidedly difficult to move, while Dell’s is set to expire at the end of the season.
With a week off that likely saw Jones do some soul searching, focusing on re-calibrating and preparing for the season’s final stretch, he may be given an opportunity to prove himself against an Anaheim team that, as mentioned, has struggled on offense. If that ends up being the case and Jones struggles, it’s likely we won’t see him make real strides the rest of the season. If, however, Jones starts, and has a quality game, we may have an entirely different conversation on our hands — a surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one.
Bold prediction: The Sharks win, earning their first shutout of the season.