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Coyotes at Sharks Preview: Back to business

After a mini-break, the Sharks will look to get back into the flow of an NHL schedule against the league’s worst team.

San Jose Sharks Right Wing Alexander Barabanov (94) skates during the NHL pro hockey game between the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks on December 16, 2021 at the SAP Center in San Jose CA. Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After waiting nine days due to the league’s COVID-19 outbreak, the San Jose Sharks will get back into action as they host the Arizona Coyotes at SAP Center on Tuesday night. The Sharks went 3-4-1 against Arizona in the 2020-21 season.

This season has mainly been about rebuilding both the Coyotes’ roster and culture, and this team wasn’t really built to compete. They’re currently ranked last in the NHL, with just six wins through 29 games. The team ranks in the bottom-five in practically every category, offensive or defensive, and they’re just an absolute mess on the ice. But hey, they’re in the front of the race for top prospect Shane Wright at the moment.

Coming into this game, Arizona’s roster is depleted. From their forward core, they are without Jay Beagle, Alex Galchenyuk, Ryan Dzingel, Christian Fischer and Dmitrij Jaskin, practically the entirety of their bottom-six. On the blue line, they’re without arguably two of their best defensemen, Jakob Chychrun and Ilya Lyubushkin, along with Conor Timmins. The Sharks can not let this opportunity fly by, they need to take advantage of playing against a weak, injured line-up.

Yeah, most of the team is injured, and yeah most of the team is really, really bad. However, there are some bright spots that the Sharks will need to watch out for, starting with Clayton Keller. The Missouri native leads the team in points, with 22 (9 goals, 13 assists), and had nine points through his last seven games prior to the season’s pause. His explosiveness mixed with his quick hands make him a fun player to watch, but dangerous for the Sharks.

The Coyotes also have some decent supporting pieces in Phil Kessel and Travis Boyd, both of whom are likely to be used as trade chips at the trade deadline. They’re not anywhere near game-changers, but they can certainly provide a positive output at times.

Arizona’s goaltenders aren’t bad, but they aren’t great either. It’s not confirmed which of the two will get the start yet, but both of them are pretty much the same in terms of skill. Karel Vejmelka is in his first NHL season, and it has not been pretty for the 25-year-old. He holds a 2-11-1 record to go with a .902 save percentage and -7.16 goals saved above expected (GSAx). His teammate, Scott Wedgewood was a waiver claim by Arizona earlier in the season, and holds a 4-9-2 record, a .902 save percentage and -4.85 GSAx. Either way, whoever is in the net, you can expect them to be below average.

The Sharks will be without goaltender Adin Hill due to the league’s COVID-19 Protocol. Zachary Sawchenko will backup James Reimer.

Reimer’s career success against Arizona continues?

Reimer has been great this season and it could even be argued that the resurgence of the 33-year-old is Vezina Trophy caliber at this point. This, along with his documented career success against the Coyotes, shows that he could be poised for another big game.

Through 10 career games against the Coyotes, Reimer has gone 6-3-0 with a .926 save percentage. They are one of the teams he has played the best against, so hopefully that continues.

How does the team fare without Dahlen, Hertl?

The Sharks will have to be without forwards Jonathan Dahlen and Tomas Hertl due to COVID Protocol, and it’ll be interesting to see how the team deals with the adversity of losing two of their top-six forwards.

Losing both of these players is unfortunate, but the loss of Hertl in particular will be difficult — he was on a burner prior to the league’s stoppage, with nine points in six consecutive games, making up for his rather slow start to the season.

It’s definitely a difficult circumstance, but playing against a weak team in the Coyotes should make it easier.

Burns to be a difference-maker in career milestone game?

Brent Burns is heading into his 1,200th career NHL game tonight, a big milestone for him. He was placed on COVID-19 Protocol during the stoppage, but was removed yesterday.

Through the season, Burns has been on and off with his offensive output, but overall has a solid 2 goals and 17 points through his first 30 games. He’s a key piece to the Sharks’ blue line, and this milestone is another piece of proof. His longevity has gone a long way for the team’s success. You can expect another night of big minutes for Burns.

Bold Prediction: Coyotes keep it close, but the Sharks win it by two goals, including one from Lane Pederson.