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Devils at Sharks Preview: Sleepy Devils seek Sharks ruin

San Jose will play New Jersey, a team on the back-end of a back-to-back game on a California road trip, and they must take advantage.

Logan Couture #39 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates scoring the game-winning goal in overtime against Corey Schneider #35 of the New Jersey Devils at SAP Center on February 27, 2020 in San Jose, California. Photo by Brandon Magnus/NHLI via Getty Images

The San Jose Sharks will meet with the New Jersey Devils tonight, as the team hopes to rebound from a rough loss to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.

The Devils are tired, coming off of a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings in overtime last night, and travelled to the Bay to play tonight. The Sharks need to take a full home advantage and come out strong early on.

New Jersey has started off pretty mediocre, going 4-3-2 on the season so far. They’re currently 22nd in the NHL, and eighth in the Metropolitan Division. However, they’ve dealt with a lot of adversity due to injuries. They’re currently without star forward Jack Hughes due to a shoulder injury, star defenseman Dougie Hamilton due to a lower-body injury, and depth forward Miles Wood due to a lower-body injury.

Jonathan Bernier will likely start in net, as MacKenzie Blackwood made his season debut last night. Bernier is 3-1-0 on the season, with a .907 save percentage (SV%) and 0.51 goals saved above expectation (GSAx). He’s been pretty average, and it’ll be interesting to see what he can do against San Jose.

I would anticipate James Reimer to get the Sharks’ crease back after a poor outing for Adin Hill on Thursday. Reimer is 3-1-0 on the season, boasting a .950 SV% and 3.50 GSAx, which ranks 11th through the entire NHL. He’s been fairly consistent with his play thus far, and I think he’s warranted the start for this game at the very least.

A player on the Devils to watch for tonight is Alexander Holtz. The Swedish winger made his NHL debut last night in Los Angeles, where he recorded one shot on goal and a 31.18 expected goals percentage (xG%). There’s been a lot of hype around Holtz since he was selected seventh overall in the 2020 NHL entry draft.

Dawson Mercer has looked good for the Devils as well, and is looking like one of the front-runners for the Calder Trophy. He has notched 5 points (3 goals, 2 assists) through nine games, and a 1.70 goals above replacement (GAR), which ranks second on the team in that category. He’s dangerous when he’s on the ice, whether it be on the power play or even-strength.

Alexander Barabanov is a player to watch for the Sharks. With Eklund gone back to Sweden, he’s likely to get an increased role within the top-six, and I’d expect that to begin tonight. Through five games, he has netted 4 assists and a 1.20 GAR, which places him at sixth on the team. Through 14 career games with San Jose, Barabanov has totaled 11 points (3 goals, 8 assists).

Nick Merkley is another enticing name for the Sharks tonight. He’s a winger option that's hoping to become a mainstay in San Jose, and honestly, he has looked better than Lane Pederson through these three games, so I wouldn’t be shocked if that were to happen. Merkley has 2 points (1 goal, 1 assist) through three games, along with a 0.4 GAR, compared to a scoreless Pederson over eight games played, and team-worst -3.5 GAR. Just some food for thought.

It’ll be interesting to see if Santeri Hatakka slides back into the line up tonight. The 20-year-old Finnish defender missed the loss to the Blues, recovering from an upper-body injury. Through two games, he has been held off of the scoresheet, but holds a respectable 0.3 GAR, being above replacement level on both sides of the ice. If he does play, he will likely slot in over Jaycob Megna.

It’s been sad to watch the Sharks' power play numbers continue to plummet as time goes on, slipping down to 15th in the NHL with a success rate of 21.2 percent. The team has gone 2-for-16 in their last five games and has definitely taken a hit with key power play skaters — like Erik Karlsson, Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc — missing time.

Who steps up?

Listen, I love Hill, and I don’t want it to seem like I’m hating on him, because after how goaltending has gone for San Jose for the last couple of years, the last thing Sharks fans should be is ungrateful, but man has he struggled or what? Last game alone he saved 23 of 27 shots, a .852 SV% and -1.61 GSAx. On the season, he is 3-3-0 with a .886 SV% and -3.66 GSAx.

My point is that while it hasn’t been as bad as the Martin Jones-era, it’s still been pretty rough, and if the Sharks want to succeed, they’re going to need help from their goaltender, whether it be Hill or Reimer. Look for whoever is in net for San Jose to be the gamechanger, if the team does in fact find a way to win.

How does the team respond to losing Eklund?

This will be the first game since he was scratched against the Boston Bruins where the Sharks will be without William Eklund. But this time he isn’t coming back — at least not until next year.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Sharks can fill the void that he leaves within the top-six, and if any potential options from the outside, like John Leonard or as mentioned earlier, Nick Merkley, can jump at the opportunity and push for a regular spot in the line up.

Last chance for Pederson?

As mentioned earlier, Lane Pederson hasn’t gotten going offensively, held off of the scoresheet for eight straight games to start the season. He hasn’t looked noticeable at all, and the analytics show that he might actually be a liability, placing him at sixth-last in goals above replacement.

With the plethora of depth forwards who have showcased their skill the last few games, nothing Pederson has done has really earned him a consistent spot in the line up, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the last game we see from him with the Sharks for a while. To me, he’s just fallen too low in the depth chart.

Bold Prediction: Whichever goaltender plays for the Sharks gets the shutout, and Lane Pederson scores a goal because that’s just what happens to me when I single out a specific player.