The league-leading Boston Bruins (30-4-4, first Atlantic) come to town to face off against the San Jose Sharks (12-20-8, seventh Pacific), and a rough night has never seemed so imminent. The Bruins are having a good “year,” winning their last two contests, including the Winter Classic win against the Pittsburgh Penguins and a padded 5-2 victory coming against the Los Angeles Kings.
If you noticed, the Bruins are sporting an outrageous record. They’ve been so dominant, in fact, they haven’t lost in regulation since Dec. 9, when the team fell 4-3 against the Arizona Coyotes. The only other teams to hand Boston a regulation loss are the Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs. Will the short list grow by one more club tonight?
Boston has three lines that can roll, but the big guns are David Pastrnak on the front end, and Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm on the back end — not to mention perennial producers Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchard. Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman man the net for the Bruins and have been flustering the league. Ullmark, in particular, is a first-time All-Star, an early Vezina favorite and leads the NHL with a 1.86 goals-against average (GAA). Scary stuff for the Sharks.
San Jose is coming off a disappointing overtime loss against the Anaheim Ducks last night. They’ve won just three of the past 10 games and are slowly being pushed to the table as the trade deadline approaches. It’s hard to find a name in San Jose not being thrown around, though it’s been reported that Tomas Hertl is untouchable after signing a long-term extension in 2022.
And now this: the league’s apex predator knocking on the door.
Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk is out for four weeks with a hand injury sustained against the Kings. For the Sharks, Radim Simek was placed on injured reserve recently. His roster spot is likely to be occupied by recently recalled Nick Cicek. Luke Kunin, Markus Nutivaara and Nikolai Knyzhov remain on IR. Newly acquired forward Michael Eyssimont may make his debut after landing in San Jose yesterday.
Home in the Tank versus gas in the tank
The Sharks aren’t quite the hometown heroes you’d like, with a 4-10-6 record at home, but familiar ice may be what the doctor ordered. The team, first of all, may have one of the league’s toughest schedules, including a season that opened with an overseas pair of games a week ahead of most of the NHL. Four of the past five games have been played on the road, and whereas the Sharks were mildly successful in turning road trips into points previously, it seems the team may have reached a burnout stage.
A game at SAP for the team brings all the benefits of home. Plus, with Eyssimont just missing the Anaheim trip and going straight to Northern California, he may be available to inject some fresh legs into the line-up. James Reimer should also be good to go after Kaapo Kahkonen took the first shift of the back-to-back.
On the other hand, the Bruins will be the fresher team after a full day’s rest. As stated, they’ve been steamrolling the league — and it doesn’t help that they have a decent road record of 11-4-1. That said, Boston will face a quick turnover as they play the Ducks tomorrow, so it’s possible that it may be Swayman instead of Ullmark in net. And of those four regulation losses this season, all of them came on the road.
Old Man Logan
There’s been some pretty good production coming from the Sharks’ top-six forwards lately. Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc accounted for five combined points against Anaheim. Matt Nieto, who also scored, has been a decent second-line plug this season and is on pace to match a career-best of 15 goals. Alexander Barabanov is starting to hit a scoring stride, with two goals and an assist in his past three games.
But arguably the X-factor has been Logan Couture, who hasn’t scored a goal since Dec. 7. He’s been having a decent season and even tallied two assists against the Chicago Blackhawks in a recent win, but has gone cold as of late in the goal-scoring department. Head coach David Quinn even tried to match Couture with Meier, following Hertl’s two-game suspension, but the metrics weren’t too impressive.
I’m not saying that Couture doesn’t belong in the top-six; through the years he’s proven to be somewhat streaky, but ultimately productive. With a scoreless string of games currently plaguing him, he’s due to get hot, with his best chance being on his current line of Barabanov and Nieto.
Couture is a player who is known to step up and play his best game when it matters most. He recorded a Gordie Howe hat trick in November against the Dallas Stars, who led the West at that time. Could the leader of this team and Sharks’ longest-tenured forward do it against another conference powerhouse in Boston?
Too much pasta
One man the Sharks will have to sweat is Pastrnak, who leads the Bruins with 52 points on the season. Compare that with Meier’s 40-point mark, which leads all Sharks. Pastrnak does sit right below our very own Erik Karlsson in league scoring — who has 54 points of his own by the way. It’s fair to say that the two All-Stars cancel each other out in terms of offensive power. The Bruins should keep their eyes on Karlsson, just as the Sharks should keep their eyes on Pastrnak.
What stands out about Pastrnak is that he has quite the symbiotic relationship with his linemates, no matter who he’s skating with. His point splits of 27 goals and 25 assists shows quite an impressive balance. To illustrate the point, he’s assisted eight of his teammates on goals and has been assisted by 12 different Bruins throughout this season, per Natural Stat Trick. Use Meier as a comparison again, reveals eight assists for and seven assists by other teammates, with a heavy reliance on Karlsson.
For most of the season, Pastrnak has skated with David Krejci and Pavel Zacha, who along with Lindholm, have been stellar off-season additions to the Bruins’ roster. But now, with DeBrusk out, Boston’s leading-scorer is skating on the first line with Marchard and Bergeron, who are former Stanley Cup champions and a force in their own right.
The Bruins also boast the league’s fourth-best power play, which features the three aforementioned players, plus McAvoy and Taylor Hall in DeBrusk’s absence. San Jose will have their hands full.
Bold prediction: The Sharks will come out swinging and earn the first goal ... I’m thinking Meier. The rest of the game will be like dueling pianos of offensive might. They’ll put up a battle, but the Sharks will fall short. The Bruins will secure an empty-netter for a final of 7-5.