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Sharks at Blues Preview: Marching in to St. Louis

After a big win in St. Paul, the Sharks hope to keep the momentum rolling against a familiar foe.

San Jose Sharks right wing Nick Merkley (10) pressures St. Louis Blues center Robert Thomas (18) during the San Jose Sharks game versus the St. Louis Blues on November 4, 2021, at SAP Center at San Jose in San Jose, CA. Photo by Matt Cohen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The San Jose Sharks will wrap up their five-game road trip tonight at Enterprise Center, taking on the St. Louis Blues in the second of their three-game season series.

The majority of games between the Sharks and Blues since their meeting in the 2019 Western Conference Final have had a lot of energy. It’s easy to tell that these two teams do not like each other. One might immediately think of the ridiculously high-scoring game last season, when the Blues temporarily shared the same division as the Sharks. Notably, Blues goaltender and known hot-head Jordan Binnington had a total meltdown after being pulled from that game, including taking a swing at Erik Karlsson and nearly coming to blows with then Sharks netminder Devan Dubnyk.

The Blues are coming into tonight in the midst of a four-game losing streak, losing 3-2 to an Arizona Coyotes team that only just won its second game of the season (yeesh). They’re currently 8-5-2 and are in fourth place in the Central Division. Despite the Blues’ skid, the Sharks can’t take them lightly, especially since they’ll get their first look at Blues forward Ryan O’Reilly, who missed the last game between the clubs with an injury. O’Reilly will center the first line, flanked by Jordan Kyrou on his left and David Perron on the right.

Ville Husso will see his second start of the season. The netminder has missed a good chunk of the season so far due to the league’s COVID Protocol, but was activated earlier this week. Husso recorded a shutout in his only start of the season in a 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings. Meanwhile, it’s once again James Reimer in net for the Sharks, after back-stopping the Sharks to a 4-1 win against Minnesota last Tuesday night.

Craig Berube’s Blues have been a pain for the Sharks to play against — they’re physical on the ice while aggravating after whistles, as we’ve seen a lot of in their previous games. The Sharks are going to have to find a way to not take the bait and focus on playing their style of hockey.

Will the Sharks continue to neutralize the Blues’ power play?

Tonight will be a battle of two elite special teams teams on both sides. The Blues currently have the second-ranked power play in the league, riding at an even 30 percent conversion and featuring talent such as Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron. Meanwhile, the Sharks have the first-ranked penalty kill in the league, at a successful kill rate of 90.2 percent.

In their last match-up, the Sharks held off the Blues’ power play, though they were playing with fire by letting the Blues on the skater-advantage four times. While the Sharks’ penalty kill has been strong to start the season, there will be minimal room for error with St. Louis’ power play. The Sharks will need to limit their penalties tonight in order to come out of St. Louis with a win.

Will Vlasic continue his form from Tuesday night?

After a rough first game back against the Colorado Avalanche, Sharks head coach Bob Boughner was not very pleased with what he saw from the Sharks’ third pairing of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Radim Simek, calling them “average at best” on the season. He then said that rookie Santeri Hatakka would draw in for one of the two against the Wild, and as it turned out, Simek came out for Hatakka.

Vlasic clearly got the message that his spot in the line up was not safe on Tuesday night, playing what Boughner said was his best game of the season. The Sharks are rolling with the same lines from Tuesday night, so Vlasic and Hatakka will once again be partnered up.

Can Kevin Labanc get going again?

After a hot start to the season, Kevin Labanc has struggled to keep up his pace that he started the season with. In fairness to Labanc, he was one of the seven players that missed significant time while on COVID Protocol, but he has yet to record a point at 5-on-5 this season. For the second game in a row, Labanc will start on the fourth line with Jonah Gadjovich and Jasper Weatherby.

Regarding Labanc’s demotion, Boughner said, “There’s another level to his game, we haven’t seen it yet, and we need it.” This isn’t the first time Labanc has come under scrutiny from Boughner, but if Labanc can respond to the noise well, his secondary scoring would greatly benefit the Sharks.

Bold Prediction: Ryan O’Reilly scores as he usually does against the Sharks, but James Reimer has another solid performance and Nick Bonino scores his first goal of the season en route to a 3-1 Sharks victory.