The San Jose Sharks are rolling, again. They’re on a two-game winning streak after taking down the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, and hold a demanding 6-3-0 record, slotting them into third place in the Pacific Division. Their next challenge is the St. Louis Blues, who are steaming hot, but coming in on the second half of a back-to-back, after playing the Los Angeles Kings last night.
Usually, that spells trouble, but the second half of a back-to-back in California for teams outside of the Pacific time zone is even worse. The Blues are going to be jetlagged, tired and still adjusting to the time change, all of which will put the Sharks, who have gotten a day of rest, at an advantage.
The Sharks still have a plethora of players on the COVID Protocol, but the skaters from their American Hockey League affiliate have shown that they are hungry to compete for a roster spot, so maybe it isn’t the worst thing in the world. Hungry players always make for competitive hockey.
The Blues ran with Jordan Binnington in net against the Kings last night, which means the Sharks will likely play against Joel Hofer, who, if he does play, will be making his NHL debut. Hofer, 20, started this season with the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds and has posted a 3-0-1 record and .936 save percentage (SV%). He was drafted 107th overall in 2018 NHL Entry Draft, and represented Canada at the World Juniors U20 Championship. It’ll be interesting to see what he brings to the table, and if he can compete for the backup role in St. Louis.
It could go either way in net for the rested Sharks. James Reimer started against the Sabres, and it looks like he’s getting a longer leash at the moment than Adin Hill. Reimer is 3-1-0 with a .950 SV% and 3.50 goals saved above expectation (GSAx), while Hill is 3-2-0 with an .893 SV% and -2.07 GSAx. Despite Reimer having the better stats of the two, don’t be surprised if the Sharks opt to go with Hill for this one, as they’ve made it clear they were willing to take a chance on him when they gave up a second-round selection to shake up their goaltending. They want to make it work with Hill.
Tomas Hertl is a player to watch, as he’s coming off of a three-point game (2 goals, 1 assist) against the Sabres. He’s starting to find his groove and looks more confident, and he’ll need to continue to lead this team against the Blues.
Mario Ferraro is a player who I hate to say, has kind of struggled this season. I wouldn’t put it all on him, as he’s taken a much larger responsibility, and is averaging two more minutes of ice-time per game than last season. Tuesday’s win was a huge step in the right direction. Ferraro had a great defensive outing, and posted a goal and an assist through a career-high 28:48 minutes. The Sharks are a good team when he’s at his best.
Blues forward David Perron is always a guy who can consistently be an offensive threat, and he’s continued doing that this season, with 10 points (6 goals, 4 assists) through eight games. He has a very lethal shot and when given the time and space, he capitalizes.
Torey Krug is another player on the Blues to watch out for. He can quarterback a power play like no other defender. His frame allows him to have a ton of speed and agility and his offensive instincts are great, with seven points (2 goals, 5 assists) through eight games. He may not be great defensively, but that doesn’t matter when he’s constantly running the cycle in the offensive zone. The Sharks need to shut him down, period.
Who will be the Sharks’ producers?
It honestly looks like this could be a big game for some of the Barracuda call-ups to make their mark and contend for a roster spot. Players like John Leonard and Nick Merkley are two specifically to watch.
Ryan Merkley, who scored his first goal last game, is another to watch. With the way the third-pairing of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Radim Simek has played this season, he could definitely push for a roster spot if he has another good outing.
Does Jonathan Dahlen’s hot streak continue?
Jonathan Dahlen has been a pleasure to watch (which I will not so subtly brag about predicting). He has notched 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists) through his last five games, and has been one of the best forwards in the Sharks’ line up.
Dahlen is so good for the simple reason that he has the skill to dance around an entire team, but still does the fundamentals and finds a way to get to the net and do some dirty work to create scoring chances as well, which is just as important. He’s a crucial piece to the Sharks' offensive blueprints, so his hot streak should continue.
Does Captain Couture heat up again?
Logan Couture has had a great season, with nine points (3 goals, 6 assists) through eight games. Despite this, he’s been held off of the scoresheet in his last two games and there’s no better time for him to get back at it than against the Blues.
Couture will likely be slotted in between the rookie duo of William Eklund and Jonathan Dahlen. He already has great chemistry with Dahlen, with whom he has played all season so far. This line could definitely be in for a big game production-wise, as all three players do a good job at driving play towards the net and creating chances that result in potential second-chance looks as well. Basically, they make life hell for any goaltender they play.
Bold Prediction: One of the Barracuda call-ups has a multi-point effort as the Sharks breeze past the Blues, with three-goal margin victory.