The San Jose Sharks (3-9-3, eighth Pacific) make the first of two trips to Texas to face the Dallas Stars (8-4-1, second Central). While the Sharks are going into the second game of a back-to-back, the Stars have been off since a Tuesday match-up in Winnipeg. Despite falling 5-1 to the Jets, the Stars are in good shape, currently sitting second in the Central and tied in points with those same first-place Jets.
Last season, Dallas finished fourth in the Central with a 46-30-6 record and 98 points, just enough to squeeze into the playoffs. Despite losing in the first round to the Calgary Flames, the Stars took the Pacific Division champs to seven games and showed some real promise looking ahead to this season.
After naming our old friend Peter DeBoer the 25th head coach in franchise history in June, the Stars spent the off-season resigning young stars forward Jason Robertson (four years, $7.75 million AAV) and goaltender Jake Oettinger (three years, $4 million AAV). General manager Jim Nill also picked up the son of long-time Sharks scout Bryan Marchment, Mason Marchment, for four years with a $4.5 million AAV. To round out the goaltending tandem, Nill re-signed trade deadline acquisition Scott Wedgewood to a two-year deal.
Although the Stars didn’t seem to make many big moves this off-season, Nill didn’t have much cap space to work with. Between the lack of wiggle room, and taking time to sign Robertson, Stars fans were bound to be worried. However, all’s well that ends well — Marchment and Robertson are producing, Oettinger and Wedgewood have been solid and Joe Pavelski just became the oldest player in franchise history to score a hat trick.
Perhaps one of the biggest keys to the Stars’ current success has been the team’s ability to stay healthy and field the same primary roster in each game. The Sharks probably wish they could say the same. The constant juggling of lines can be a struggle, but without the expected production and outcomes, it’s to be expected. Here’s to hoping things will settle soon.
Can the Sharks turn shots into goals?
The Sharks have had no problems putting shots on goal over the last four games. Until facing the St. Louis Blues last night, the Sharks haven’t put less than 40 shots on goal since battling the Lightning at home well over a week ago. Generally speaking, outshooting your opponent 54 to 27, as the team did against Anaheim last Saturday, leads to a win. Unfortunately, San Jose let in more than they scored.
Of course, goaltending is a major factor in whether or not shots become goals. Both Stars goaltenders boast a save percentage over .900, but have yet to face more than 35 shots against in a game this season. What will help the Sharks convert? Is it having more players down by the net? Or are they just being bested by opposing goaltending? Of course, finishing when given rebounds can help a lot, too.
How reliable is the penalty kill? Yes, special teams again.
Our penalty kill is good. We know this. But the Stars’ power play squad is also good. Can San Jose continue to rely on those eight guys? Even past this game, will the PK be able to keep it up?
The Stars’ power play ranks fourth in the league, with a 28.6 percent success rate, so the Sharks will need the penalty kill to continue to be dominant. Luckily, the Stars are second to last in the league in time spent on the skater-advantage, and the Sharks are in the lower end of the league in time spent short-handed. Of course, that’s nothing a referee can’t change.
OK, so sure, let’s say San Jose can rely on the penalty kill to keep games manageable. Is it sustainable? Surely we all know the answer to this is no. At some point, the team will have to start playing good defense all the time, as opposed to being good a man down and just alright at 5-on-5. Giving up the second-most 5-on-5 goals in the league and the second-fewest at 4-on-5 is not exactly a recipe for success.
Maybe the question isn’t so much about the team’s ability to do it, as much as it is about for how long they can do it, especially against the fourth-best power play in the league.
Is the Stars’ first line as dominant as they seem?
According to the Money Puck’s line stats, the Robertson, Hintz and Pavelski line has netted 13 goals for and just one goal against in 125.9 minutes on ice together. This line has a whopping 6.19 goals per 60 minutes, by far the highest of any line that has played more than 75 minutes together. Even when looking at expected goals per 60 minutes (xG/60), this line only drops to sixth with 3.62. When over-performing like that and allowing just one goal against, it’s easy to see how this could be the best line in the league.
In comparison, the Sharks’ top line of Barabanov, Hertl and Meier has the most TOI together, at just 55.3 minutes together and 3.47 xG/60. Last season, the Stars’ top forwards were behind just the Calgary Flames’ top line of Gaudreau, Lindholm and Tkachuk in TOI at 791.1 minutes and actual goals per 60 minutes of 3.87. The Sharks’ top line in comparison post 3.63 goals per 60, but just 413.2 minutes together.
The biggest struggle tonight will easily be containing this powerhouse top line.
Bold prediction: Erik Karlsson will have the second goal against the Dallas top line. Oskar Lindblom will record a point and Nico Sturm will score.