It looked like things were slipping for the San Jose Sharks, but the team has quickly gotten back on track, beginning their road trip with two straight wins and improving to an overall record of 12-9-1.
The Sharks’ opponents for tonight have not been as lucky. The New York Islanders suffered an abundance of losses to their roster to the NHL’s COVID Protocol, and have lost eight straight games. Things could’ve been worse, if the NHL hadn’t canceled the most two recent games that the team was supposed to play against the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. New York’s last win came on Nov. 6, almost a full month ago. The Sharks cannot afford to let the opportunity to play against this depleted team slip away.
The Islanders' roster players that are suffering from injuries and/or COVID-19 include Zdeno Chara, Andy Greene, Casey Cizikas, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, Ross Johnston, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech and Kieffer Bellows. That’s tons of star power and key depth pieces missing.
The Islanders’ leading goal-scorer, however, will be in the line-up. Forward Oliver Wahlstrom has netted 5 goals through 17 games in his sophomore season. Highlighting the Isles’ struggles, four Sharks players have score more goals than Wahlstrom.
The Islanders’ goaltenders have been polar opposites of each other. Ilya Sorokin is 5-6-2 with an elite .928 save percentage, while veteran Semyon Varlamov has yet to record a win through five games, with an .881 save percentage. Expect Sorokin to get the nod, given how consistent he has been.
A main issue has just been how horribly the Islanders’ offensive core has performed. They’re dead last on the power play, shooting percentage and goals per game. It’s been a mixture of casualties due to injures and illness, paired with how poorly Barry Trotz’s system has performed. If New York wants to be competitive again, they may need to switch some things around.
One thing that should not be overlooked is how depleted the Islanders' blue line is. Their top pairing in Pelech and Pulock, which is arguably the best in the league, are both out. The team has been forced to run with inexperienced players like Grant Hutton and Paul LaDue and it’s become a disaster to watch. A bright spot in Robin Salo has appeared, however, and it looks like he could potentially steal a roster spot when everyone is healthy again.
This is the first game between the Sharks and Islanders since Feb. 23, 2020. New York won 4-1.
Can Adin Hill show up big?
Adin Hill is confirmed to get the start against the Islanders, while James Reimer will get the more difficult New York team with the Rangers.
Hill has struggled a bit this season, posting a 4-5-0 record and a .897 save percentage. His most recent start was against the Washington Capitals on Nov. 20. He made 17 saves on 20 shots and hasn’t recorded a save percentage above .900 on a start since Nov. 9 in an amazing win over the Calgary Flames.
Hill just hasn’t been consistent during his stint with the Sharks, but there’s no better game for him to bounce back in than against arguably the weakest team in hockey right now. I’d expect a strong performance from him tonight.
Will Meier continue his MVP-caliber run?
Timo Meier has been such a crucial piece to the Sharks’ offensive core. Through 16 games this season, he has totaled 20 points (9 goals, 11 assists). He’s been huge for the production of linemates Logan Couture and Jonathan Dahlen.
Over his last four games, Meier has netted 5 goals and 7 total points. It’s hard to think of somebody not named James Reimer as the most valuable player of this team, but Meier might be ahead of him at this point.
With a struggling team in the Islanders, it’s hard to see how Meier doesn’t continue his reign of terror, and if the Sharks want to keep winning, they’ll need him to.
Can the Sharks' power play get going against an undisciplined team?
The Sharks' power play hasn’t been great this season, but that could change if they get more opportunities against one of the most undisciplined teams in the league tonight.
The Islanders average 11.4 penalty minutes per game, second to last in the league, ahead of only the Arizona Coyotes. The Sharks’ power play has some weapons on it, and with some of the Islanders' best penalty killers out of the line-up, it may be a good mismatch to get things going.
The Sharks’ power play went 1-for-3 on Tuesday’s 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils, slowly coming out of a long slump. This may be the spark they needed to get things going.