The San Jose Sharks are making their way into Newark, New Jersey for the second of a five-game road trip. The Devils have finally begun progression after a long rebuilding process and are actually a solid team this season. They took down the Sharks in a shootout when the two teams met earlier this month, so it’ll be a battle tonight.
The New Jersey Devils are ranked sixth in the Metropolitan Division, which isn’t terrible considering seven of the eight Metropolitan teams have a .500 or better record. New Jersey holds a 9-6-4 record on the season, going 2-2-1 against teams in the Pacific Division. The Devils won their most recent game 5-2 against the Philadelphia Flyers, but have been average as of late, going 2-3-2 over their last seven games.
The team has been without center Jack Hughes since mid-October, but he has been a full participant in practice lately, and could potentially make his return tonight. New Jersey are also missing forwards Miles Wood and Tyce Thompson, who will be out for a substantial amount of time.
With Hughes out, Jesper Bratt and Andreas Johnsson have stepped up offensively, both sporting 17 points through 19 games. Rookie forward Dawson Mercer has also been a pleasant surprise this season, with 14 points (6 goals, 8 assists) through 19 games, and is among the many favorites for the 2022 Calder trophy.
MacKenzie Blackwood is expected to get the start in net and see the Sharks for the first time since Feb. 20, 2020 — prior to the COVID-19 pandemic — where he saved 36 of 37 shots en route to a 2-1 victory for the Devils. So far this season, he’s posted a 4-1-2 record and .922 save percentage. He’s been good and San Jose will need to test him.
On the Devils’ blue line, P.K. Subban has been getting familiar with the Department of Player Safety lately, facing a $15,000 fine for his third instance of slew-footing since the 2021 preseason.
Will Pederson replacing Weatherby make the Sharks better?
Sharks head coach Bob Boughner confirmed that Lane Pederson will return to the line-up after missing eight games with a lower-body injury and that he will be replacing rookie Jasper Weatherby.
“Like a lot of young guys, they hit that wall mentally and physically a little bit. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to sort of take a step back. It’s tough to be just in the middle and be a little bit vanilla, we got to get that pop back in his game,” Bougher said on the decision.
Pederson will be with Kevin Labanc and Jonah Gadjovich on the fourth line.
Comparing the two, Pederson has been held off the scoresheet entirely, with zero points through 11 games and -0.70 wins above replacement (WAR), whereas Weatherby has scored 2 goals and 3 assists through 21 games, with -0.10 WAR.
Weatherby has admittedly been quiet the last few games, but I wouldn’t say he’s been bad at all. At times, his big frame and the way he plays can be a factor in the forecheck game that the Sharks like to play. I didn’t like the way Pederson performed when he was healthy and in the line-up, but we’ll see if some time off has allowed him to improve his game a bit.
Will the offense help out Reimer?
The Sharks have scored two or fewer goals in nine of Reimer’s games this season, and he’s played 13 total games. That means there have only been four instances in which Reimer played and the Sharks supported him with an offensive effort.
The team ranks 30th in the league in shots on goal per game, and 24th in goals per game. It’s already clear to fans that half of the offensive core is mediocre at best, and that they’ve thrived off of the elite performances from Reimer (and at times Adin Hill), and the top-six.
Another reason for offensive struggles is the power play. Maybe it’s time to try out some different units, because it hasn’t been working, going 1-for-14 through the last five games.
If the Sharks want any chance of competing for a playoff spot by the time that April comes around, they’re going to need more from the offense.
Does Hertl take the next step?
Tomas Hertl has been good this season, and when he’s on top of his game, he can even be elite. So far this season, all he has been in my eyes is an average second-line center. This isn’t necessarily a dig, as his role is second-line center, but this doesn’t seem like the best of Hertl, in my opinion.
Hertl has shown flashes of his skill throughout the season. On certain plays, he’ll make a mind-boggling dangle, or nice pass, but when he isn’t doing that he’s just simply average. He has just one multi-point performance this season, coming against the below .500 Buffalo Sabres, and just 10 even-strength points through 21 games, which would be on pace for 39 even-strength points over the course of the season.
I don’t want to make it seem like the team should be unappreciative, as what he has given is still much better than the effort we’ve seen from the bottom-six, but it just seems like something is off with Hertl.
Bold Prediction: Hertl puts up a multi-point game, just because I pointed it out.