The San Jose Sharks (8-16-5, seventh Pacific) head down to the land of Disney to play the Anaheim Ducks (7-17-3, eighth Pacific). When these teams faced off last on Nov. 5, the Ducks won 5-4 in a shootout.
Anaheim is coming off a 4-3 overtime win against the Carolina Hurricanes, thanks to heroics from Ryan Strome. The team has one (1) regulation win this season, in a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers on Nov. 23. Nine of 27 games have gone into overtime, [breaks out calculator] meaning one-third of games this season resulted in 3-on-3. The Ducks have to be one of the most disappointing teams this year, given all of the young talent on the roster and the lack of results.
Since these teams last met, the Ducks have won three games in the last 15 and have established themselves as the worst team in the NHL. Anaheim continues to struggle offensively, having only scored four or more goals three times since that November meeting. In the same time span, the Sharks have managed that feat seven times.
While San Jose earned a point against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday, the team also blew another third period lead. The Sharks dominated the Canucks, out shooting Vancouver 39-27 and creating 54 scoring chances and 23 high danger chances for, per Natural Stat Trick. Rookie goaltender Eetu Makiniemi made his NHL debut, taking over for Kaapo Kahkonen in the third period, but the team continued their losing ways, having now dropped four straight and nine of the last eleven games.
Heading into this game, the Ducks remain without defender Jamie Drysdale, who is out four to six months with a torn labrum. John Klingberg is also on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. Center Isac Lundestrom was recently placed on IR with a fractured finger and will be out for six weeks. Derek Grant is considered day-to-day with a lower-body injury and has missed the last two games.
The Sharks are dealing with a rash of injuries themselves. Steven Lorentz missed Wednesday’s game with the flu. Matt Nieto is on IR after taking a hit from Rasmus Dahlin last Sunday. Goaltender James Reimer is practicing, but will miss this game. Mario Ferraro is still on IR, but has started practicing. Alexander Barabanov is questionable with a lower-body injury.
Get-right game for special teams?
The penalty kill has begun to show cracks. The kill was operating at a 91.5 percent kill rate through Nov. 30. Since the calendar turned to December, San Jose has allowed seven goals in twelve power plays. That is a 41.7 percent kill rate — only the St. Louis Blues have a worse rate in that timeframe.
Luckily, the Ducks can fix anyone’s penalty kill woes. Anaheim is operating the second-to-worst league power play at 15.6 percent, and without Klingberg or Drysdale to run it, Cam Fowler is being asked to pick up the slack. San Jose’s penalty kill should dominate this match-up.
The power play has been one of the Sharks’ most consistent aspects lately, netting a goal in four of the last six games. The first unit has been clicking, and if Barabanov is out, Kevin Labanc should be able to jump onto the first until to add another scoring threat. The Ducks' penalty kill is borderline a natural disaster, operating at a 66.3 percent success rate. Erik Karlsson should feast on this unit.
Reimer is still not ready to return, while Kahkonen has been underperforming in the starting role. In four games since Reimer’s last, Kahkonen has posted an .877 save percentage (SV%) and 3.55 goals-against average (GAA), including a shutout against the Montreal Canadiens.
David Quinn was clearly unhappy with Kahkonen’s performance against Vancouver, pulling him in the third period for Makiniemi to make his NHL debut. Could this have been setting the stage for Makiniemi to get out his nerves prior to making his first NHL start on Friday?
The 23-year-old is off to an admirable start in his first season with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda. Makiniemi, who was acquired this off-season as part of the package that sent Brent Burns to the Hurricanes, has posted a .918 SV% and 2.58 GAA in 12 games, also including a single shutout.
Can Couture carry a line without Barabanov?
If Barabanov is unavailable tomorrow, his linemate Logan Couture might struggle. Couture leads the team in goals (14) and his resurgence has been a big part of San Jose’s ability to score this season. While Nick Bonino can do his best Matt Nieto (origins unknown) impression, Barabanov’s ability to create offense by carrying the transition game and using his underrated passing abilities has led to a more balanced workload for Couture.
Couture has struggled to carry the load without Barabanov and his lines have been hemorrhaging unblocked shots and attempts (Corsi allowed). While the Ducks struggle to create offensive chances, an injured and Barabanov-less roster, combined with poor defense and a potential first NHL start in net could lead to Anaheim generating more offense than expected. Barabanov has become that important to the Sharks' ability to create offense.
Bold Prediction: Eetu Makiniemi makes his first career start, Erik Karlsson snags three points, but the Ducks win 5-4 in overtime, because these teams are destined to play only overtime games.