Ducks at Sharks Preview: Battle for Bedard in the Bay

Someone has to win, right?

The San Jose Sharks (3-8-0) continue a six-game homestand, hosting the Anaheim Ducks (2-6-1) on Tuesday. The Ducks are coming off a 4-3 overtime win against the Toronto Maple Leafs where Trevor Zegras provided the heroics. The start of this season hasn’t been what Ducks fans hoped for after the team won opening night, and then proceeded to go on a seven-game losing streak.

Last season was a tale of two halves for Anaheim. The Ducks started 17-9-6 prior to the COVID-extended Christmas break, but the final 50 games saw the team finish 14-28-8, seventh in the Pacific Division with 76 points, one fewer than the Sharks.

At the trade deadline, general manager Pat Verbeek was active, shipping out defender Josh Manson to the Colorado Avalanche for a 2023 second-round draft pick and defensive prospect Drew Helleson. They also moved defenders Hampus Lindholm and Kodie Curran to the Boston Bruins for a 2022 first-round pick, 2023 second-round pick, 2024 second-round pick, defender Urho Vaakanainen, and defender John Moore.

Verbeek also sent noted pest Nicolas Deslauriers to the Minnesota Wild for a 2023 third-round pick. Finally, forward Rickard Rakell was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a 2022 second-round pick, goaltending prospect Calle Clang, center Dominik Simon and forward Zach Aston-Reese.

The Ducks entered free agency with almost $40 million in cap space, but began free agency quietly, eventually signing forwards Frank Vatrano and Ryan Strome. Vatrano signed a three-year deal worth almost $11 million. Strome was inked to the best contract in sports, the five-year contract worth $25 million. Verbeek also took a swing on former Dallas Stars defender John Klingberg with a one-year, $7 million deal. Anaheim is over the cap floor, but saving space for what should be massive deals for Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale next off-season.

Entering Tuesday’s tilt, the Ducks are relatively healthy, with defender Sam Carrick out long-term after having hip surgery in the off-season. Urho Vaakanainen was placed on IR after running into the boards during a preseason game against the Sharks. As of this morning, Jamie Drysdale is out four to six months after suffering a torn labrum against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Are the Sharks starting to turn a corner?

After losing the first five games to start the season, the Sharks have gone 3-3-0 over the last six games. The offense has produced more consistently during that time and the power play has been a big reason, clicking at a 28.6 percent rate. The Sharks have struggled to score at even-strength, currently averaging 1.72 goals per game at even-strength. If the power play can get going, it could help to cover those even-strength woes.

While even-strength may not be the where San Jose makes their money, there has been an improvement over the last six games. Starting with the New York Rangers game, the Sharks have a cumulative combined 50 percent Corsi For (unblocked shots and shot attempts share). In the five prior games, the Sharks came in at 43.6 percent. If they continue to be even-ish at even-strength, this could bode well for the team to be competitive in more games.

Battle for the Bedard

Heading into this game, the Ducks and Sharks are currently leading the race for prized draft pick Connor Bedard.

The Ducks have done a great job of adding high end talent in Trevor Zegras, Mason McTavish, and Jamie Drysdale throughout the rebuild, but the thought of Bedard in whatever that orange monstrosity of a sweater the Ducks are currently wearing would be too much.

Anaheim’s slide at the end of last season vaulted the team one spot ahead of San Jose in the draft, which was used to grab defender Pavel Mintyukov, who is currently dominating the Ontario Hockey League. The 2023 draft’s prized prospect of Connor Bedard could come down to which team decides to commit to the rebuild (and a bit of ping pong ball luck).

But Bedard, Zegras and McTavish down the middle for the next decade-plus? Even putting that sentence into the world feels wrong.

Whose net is it anyway?

James Reimer has gotten the majority of starts this season, starting seven games so far. The game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday wasn’t his sharpest, but the veteran netminder has been outstanding against the Ducks in his career, posting a 4-1-2 record, .936 save percentage (SV%) and 1.85 goals-against average (GAA) in teight games.

Kaapo Kahkonen has really come into his game the past few outings, playing incredibly against the New Jersey Devils and saving 34 of 36 shots. He looked solid again against Toronto, despite giving up three goals on 25 shots. Kahkonen has a 5-1-1 record against the Ducks in seven games, with a .919 SV% and 2.27 GAA.

Longtime Ducks mainstay John Gibson has gotten off to a rocky start this season, putting up a Martin Jones-esque .884 SV% and 4.45 GAA. He’s also been pulled in three of seven starts, in favor of notorious back-up Anthony Stolarz. In 17 career games against San Jose, Gibson has a 6-5-5 record, .911 SV% and 2.89 GAA. Stolarz (with the Philadelphia Flyers, Edmonton Oilers and Ducks) has been outstanding against the Sharks, posting a 5-1-0 record, .946 SV% and 1.79 GAA.

This could be a get right game for all netminders involved, since both teams struggle to generate offense. The Ducks currently rank 31st in the league in 5-on-5 expected goals per 60 mins at 1.85, while the Sharks sit at 27th at 2.25. Take the under!

Bold Prediction: Erik Karlsson continues his revenge tour with a goal and an assist, as the Sharks win 2-1 over the Ducks.