The San Jose Sharks continue the East Coast trip with a visit to the New Jersey Devils. The Sharks are coming off their first win of the year, a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory against the New York Rangers. The third period was easily the team’s best period of hockey this season and was capped off by Erik Karlsson quieting the haters (for a day) in overtime with his incredible individual effort to complete the comeback.
Last season, the Devils finished seventh in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 27-46-9 and 63 points, ending the season with six straight losses and questions about head coach Lindy Ruff’s future with the team.
The Devils did get some luck in the draft lottery, jumping to number two overall, where they were able to grab top defenseman Simon Nemec out of Slovakia, hoping to partner him with Michigan standout Luke Hughes to form one of the most exciting young defensive cores in the NHL.
This off-season must have felt very disappointing for Devils fans, as the team was constantly in rumors to acquire a huge piece to add to the already talented young forward group. but then the team missed out on both Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk and were unable to trade the second-overall pick for Alex Debrincat.
They did try to address the goaltending by adding Vitek Vanecek from the Washington Capitals for a swap of second-round picks and a third-rounder during the draft, then signed Vanecek to a three-year, $10.2 million contract. They also were very active in free agency, as one of the few teams with a ton of cap space. New Jersey acquired forward Erik Haula from the Boston Bruins in exchange for forward Pavel Zacha, signed 30-year-old forward Ondrej Palat to a five-year, $30 million deal, and traded a 2023 third-round pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins for defender John Marino.
The Devils are supposed to be turning the corner after an extensive rebuild, but the young, fun and full of potential team are still dealing with some of the same issues that plagued them last season. The goaltending tandem of Mackenzie Blackwood and Vanecek rank 47th and 57th respectively in goals saved above average (please do not look at where Kaapo Kahkonen currently ranks). The power play, which struggled last season at 15.6 percent, is off to a slow start this year.
Heading into this game, both teams are relatively healthy, with Sharks defender Markus Nutivaara as the only player on IR.
Can the Sharks build off the first win?
The Sharks can finally take a deep breath after getting that elusive first win on Thursday night, but can they keep it going? There’s no denying that San Jose has started very slowly, looking to be on the way to a sixth-straight loss after getting outshot 21-9 in the first two periods against the Rangers, but something flipped and the team found a gear that had been missing all season. Finally able to establish some offensive zone time, they outshot New York 16-2 in the final frame. Stars Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl and Erik Karlsson were able to step up in the biggest situation to end the Rangers in overtime.
The Sharks aren’t going to out-score their problems, but if they can get quality goaltending from James Reimer (and if Kahkonen can return to the form we saw at the end of last season) and squeeze just enough offense out of the stars, this team should be in most games. Head coach David Quinn said postgame, “I can’t go to CVS and buy confidence pills,” (clearly he has never been a drunk white male at a wedding reception on the dance floor) but a win can help boost some confidence for a team that has been called “mentally fragile.”
Special teams edge vs even-strength disadvantage
San Jose’s penalty kill has started off red hot with a perfect 20-for-20. The Devils' power play has struggled, despite trotting out a unit of Nico Hischer, Dawson Mercer, Jesper Bratt, Jack Hughes and Dougie Hamilton and have only posted 1.04 expected goals-for this season. While the Sharks have not been able to convert on the power play as much they would like, the underlying numbers have been positive, with 4.31 expected goals so far this season (They have scored 2 and given up 2, so that works, right?). If the penalty kill can continue to play well, and the team can convert expected goals into real ones, San Jose has an advantage in the special teams battle.
At even-strength, the Sharks are going to have their work cut out for them. The Devils currently lead the league in expected goals-for with 12. The Sharks are 12th with 10.91, despite having played two more games than the Devils, and are 31st in expected goals allowed with 12.78. The Devils will probably look to take advantage at even-strength and hope that they can make up for a lack of special teams. Meanwhile, the Sharks will have to hold on during 5-on-5 play and hope that special teams and goaltending advantages (assuming Reimer starts) can carry them to a narrow victory.
Timo Time, finally?
Timo Meier is overdue for a goal. Like really overdue.
Getting the second point of the year in Erik Karlsson’s helper must have felt good, but I’m sure hitting the back of the net will feel much better. Timo Time has been delayed for far too long and an avalanche of goals should be coming for Meier.
He’s hit the post several times and ranks third in the league in shots on goal with 26. With Noah Gregor seemingly in the press box for good, could Timo Meier now have taken the mantel as the unluckiest person in San Jose?
Bold Prediction: Meier scores two on the power play, but the Devils' young forwards prove to be too much for the Sharks' defense to handle, winning 4-3 in a fun Saturday morning game.