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Red Wings at Sharks Preview: An old rivalry re-ignited

I don’t think the Sharks are looking forward to seeing these guys again so soon.

San Jose Sharks left wing Alexander Barabanov (94) rushes into the offensive end during the game between the Detroit Red Wings and the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday January 4, 2022 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, MI. Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The San Jose Sharks (19-16-1, fifth Pacific) are set to host the Detroit Red Wings (16-16-4, fifth Atlantic) at SAP Center on Tuesday night, as the team attempts to extend their improbable two-game winning streak. The two teams met just five days ago in Michigan, and will quickly wrap up the season series, hoping for a better outcome this time around.

In their last meeting, the Red Wings took down the Sharks by a demanding 6-2 score. Tyler Bertuzzi and Pius Suter scored twice each, while Alex Nedeljkovic saved 24 of 26 shots for Detroit. Alexander Barabanov and Jasper Weatherby put the Sharks on the board, but James Reimer was yanked after allowing four goals. Adin Hill saved five of seven shots that he faced in relief.

But the last two games have been solid for San Jose, defeating the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers, both by a score of 3-2. Now they’ll take on the Red Wings, another team that has been trending downward lately. They’ve gone 1-4-0 through the last five games, slowly slipping below .500 and out of a playoff spot, so the team will be desperate to earn a season series sweep.

Detroit’s power play is one of the worst in the NHL, converting at just 14.1 percent. The special teams battle should work in favor for the Sharks, whose 82.6 percent penalty kill success ranks tenth in the league. San Jose has been playing a more disciplined game lately — surprising, with the inexperience in the roster, though that inexperience has also caused the power play to take a hit. They’ve netted one power play goal since Dec. 12, 2021, despite 19 power play opportunities. That said, the Red Wings penalty kill has an uninspiring 77.8 percent success. It would be good for the team to get some chemistry going on the power play.

A couple of individual streaks are on the line for the Sharks in tomorrow’s game. Timo Meier is riding a four-game point streak, with 7 points (1 goal, 6 assists) in that span. Tomas Hertl is on a three-game point streak, netting 4 goals and 2 assists. The duo combined for both of Hertl’s regulation goals in Philadelphia on Saturday, and Hertl completely the hat trick with the overtime winner. Brent Burns notched an assist on all three goals.

Adin Hill will likely get the start for the Sharks. He’s played in the team’s last four games, putting up two consecutive games with a save percentage over .935. He’s been trying his hardest to make the most of this opportunity with Reimer day-to-day with a lower-body injury, and he’s making it hard to take him out whenever Reimer returns.

There was some feistiness the last time these teams met, and I’m curious to see if it will drag into this one. Givani Smith and Bertuzzi were getting into it on the Red Wings side, while Nicholas Meloche, Jeff Viel, and Jake Middleton were scrapping it up for the Sharks. Lots of options that we could see collide.

Pushing for a playoff spot?

The Sharks are very close in the Wild Card race, and with the way the Red Wings have struggled lately, this may be an opportunity for San Jose to gain some ground in the Western Conference, while their rivals are struggling at the moment. The Edmonton Oilers, who are riding a five-game losing streak and are without Connor McDavid, are a prime example of the teams the Sharks can gain some ground on before they finally put themselves back together.

The rest of the opponents after the Red Wings this month are going to be really, really hard, so the Sharks can’t afford to lose one game that should be relatively evenly matched.

All-time success against the Red Wings to continue?

Since 2010, the Sharks have gone 25-17 against the Red Wings. The pair haven’t gotten the opportunity to play each other as much as they used to before Detroit moved to the Eastern Conference, but this was once a highly touted rivalry.

The Sharks’ most recent regulation victory against the Red Wings was on March 12, 2019. Since then, there have only been three meetings between the two due to COVID-19, but San Jose hopes to snap this “drought” with a win.

Time for Merkley to leave his mark?

With bottom-six players like Lane Pederson and Jonah Gadjovich out, Nick Merkley is left with the perfect opportunity to leave his mark on this Sharks team and make it difficult to take him out of the line-up again.

Many Sharks fans already have been calling for Merkley to stick around, but the coaching staff has yet to agree. Through eight games this season, Merkley has tallied 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists). He looked especially good during the team’s COVID outbreak in late October.

Merkley is going to have to make the most out of the time he’s with the big club. The young forward has what it takes, but he needs to take it to the next gear — perhaps with an explosive night on Tuesday?