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Sharks at Hurricanes Preview: Weathering the storm surge

A depleted Sharks blueline is going to be tasked with shutting down another one of the league’s best.

Nick Bonino #13 of the San Jose Sharks takes a face-off against Derek Stepan #18 of the Carolina Hurricanes in a regular season game at SAP Center on November 22, 2021 in San Jose, California. Photo by Amanda Cain/NHLI

After a tightly-contested overtime loss to the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, the San Jose Sharks’ Southeast gauntlet trip continues with a trip to Raleigh, as they conclude a back-to-back at PNC Arena against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Sharks ended the last homestand by getting smoked to the tune of 7-1 by the Tampa Bay Lightning, but opened this road trip with a surprising 4-1 victory over the Washington Capitals. San Jose had gone 5-3-2 in their last ten games — not too bad, but certainly some room for improvement.

Carolina, too, is coming off of a back-to-back, edging out the New Jersey Devils 2-1 yesterday. They come into today having gone 8-1-1 in the last ten games, with two of the last four going past regulation. The Hurricanes been jousting with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers for the top of the Metropolitan Division all season.

Despite a controversial off-season, including, but not limited to letting Dougie Hamilton walk in free agency and concurrently bringing in Tony DeAngelo on a one-year deal, the Hurricanes are perhaps even more of a threat than they were before. The team is dominating in almost every single facet of the game, tied for the fifth-most 5-on-5 goals in the league with an even 100, and special teams are even more dangerous (more on that later).

Paving the way offensively for Carolina is the always-dangerous Sebastian Aho, currently producing at a rate of 1.19 points per game. A fixture of the first line with Teuvo Teravainen (though Jordan Martinook took Teravainen’s spot on the first line on Saturday), and presently, Seth Jarvis, Aho leads the Canes in scoring with 44 points (19 goals, 25 assists) in 37 games.

While he isn’t playing on the “SAT” line with Aho and Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov remains another top-scoring threat on this dangerous Hurricanes team. The forward had a down year last season, but Svechnikov has come roaring back, scoring 14 goals and 22 assists in 36 games so far. He’s tallied six points in his last five games.

Reim’s Time x2

Before their game against the Panthers yesterday, Sharks head coach Bob Boughner said James Reimer would most likely get the start against the Hurricanes, as Adin Hill is currently on injured reserve with a lower-body injury.

This will be Reimer’s first time starting back-to-back all season. The last time he did so was with the Hurricanes in the 2020-21 campaign, starting both games of a back-to-back with the Dallas Stars on Jan. 30 and Jan. 31, winning both of them. He posted a save percentage of .909 in his first game, only facing 11 shots and allowing one goal. The next day’s affair proved to be a more daunting task for Reimer, but he stopped 26 out of 29 shots in that game.

Interestingly enough, this back-to-back will see Reimer squaring off against the two teams he played with after leaving the Sharks in 2016 free agency.

Silencing special teams

The Hurricanes’ special teams as a whole are very, very good.

Their power-play ranks fifth in the league, at a clip of 25.8 percent, and as impressive as that is, their penalty kill is even better. Right now, the Hurricanes have the top penalty kill in the league, successful 88.7 percent of the time.

Though the Sharks scored two power play goals on Saturday against a middle-of-the-road Panthers penalty kill unit, they absolutely cannot afford to make any mistakes against a Hurricanes penalty kill unit that, while only having scored two shorthanded goals, can shut any power play down.

Trouble on the blueline

Mario Ferraro left the game last night after taking a puck to the face, and did not return. If his injury is long-term, it leaves the Sharks with just three of their regular six defensemen, as Erik Karlsson and Jake Middleton are also on injured reserve — Karlsson recovering from a torn muscle repair in his arm, and Middleton dealing with concussion symptoms.

Radim Simek and Nicolas Meloche have been the bottom-pairing for the last two games, and I imagine that will stay the same, but after having not been active for the last two games, this could provide an opportunity for Ryan Merkley to step back into the Sharks’ line-up. Boughner mentioned the day of the Capitals game that it wouldn’t be bad for Merkley to watch a game, but there may not be much of a choice if Mario Ferraro can’t go.

Bold Prediction: It’s a defensive battle most of the way, but the Hurricanes edge out the Sharks 3-2.