Stars at Sharks Preview: The Oettinger Escape Plan

Inconsistent offense, meet hot goaltender.

The Dallas Stars (26-12-7, second Central) are heading to the Bay Area hot off a Jake Oettinger shutout, while the San Jose Sharks (13-23-9, seventh Pacific) are stumbling into the final game of a so-far 0-2 homestand. Since the Sharks won 5-4 at Dallas on Nov. 11, and the Stars won 5-2 at home on Dec. 31, this third and final match-up will decide who wins the season series.

While the teams are on opposing ends of their respective conferences, the Stars are 3-3-1 and the Sharks are 2-3-2 since the teams’ last meeting at the end of last year; San Jose would have tied Dallas’s record with a win against the New Jersey Devils (29-12-3, first Metropolitan) on Monday.

Dallas started off a three-game Pacific Division trip Monday with a 4-0 away win against the Vegas Golden Knights (28-15-2, first Pacific), and will face the Los Angeles Kings (25-16-5, third Pacific) after the soirée with the Sharks. Roope Hintz, one of the Stars’ leading scorers, is still out with an upper-body injury, having missed four games after leaving the game against the Florida Panthers (21-20-4, fourth Atlantic) on Jan. 8. In his place, Tyler Seguin has slotted into the top line and so far has only scored once, an empty netter against Vegas.

The Stars have strong offense (3.4 goals for/60 minutes, fifth), defense (2.57 goal against/60, second) and special teams (27 percent power play, fifth; 82.8 percent penalty kill, fifth), and the team’s goal differential of +37 is third behind the New Jersey Devils +40 and Boston Bruins’ +72. Also, Jason Robertson (29 G, 31 A, 60 P) still exists. A potential area of weakness? Their comparatively pedestrian shots for/60 (31.67, 15th) and shots against/60 (30.68, 15th).

After being embarrassed 7-1 by the Edmonton Oilers and getting edged out 4-3 in the shootout by the Devils, the Sharks have one last chance to get a win in this homestand before departing on an eight-game road trip through half of the Eastern Conference. The schedule features one bottom feeder (CBJ), two middling teams (DET, FLA) and five teams currently in a playoff position (BOS, CAR, PIT, TBL, WSH).

MoneyPuck’s model predicts San Jose’s playoff chances at 0.6 percent, which could make it all the way up to single digits with an eight-or-nine-game winning streak. On the other hand, maybe Connor Bedard’s destination will be all but decided by Valentine’s Day.

Will the Sharks tighten up starts and stops?

Last game, New Jersey scored 29 seconds into the first period, 11 seconds into the third, and then again with 10 seconds remaining in the game. The scoreboard may show that Erik Karlsson scored a goal with four seconds left in the first period, but that barely counts, since the final 3:59 of the first was played at the start of the second due to a broken door.

One goal in the opening/closing thirty seconds of a period is a backbreaker, but three in a game is just overkill. San Jose needs to figure out how to either score or get off the ice.

Can the team repeat history against Oettinger?

Stars goaltender Oettinger is one of the NHL’s best performing netminders over the last two years, and sports a sparkling stat line this year too (2.21 goals against average, third; .926 save percentage, second; 20 wins, fourth). In fact, Oettinger has only allowed four or more goals in six of his 33 games this season, and he’s never let in more than five in his career.

The Sharks, surprisingly, are one of the only teams to score five on Oettinger, doing so on Nov. 11. His save percentage of .772 in that game is the worst of his 119-game career. If the Sharks pot a few early goals on Oettinger, maybe they’ll be able to shake up Jake and give him an even worse save percentage this time.

Can Pavelski be kept off the scoresheet?

The 38-year-old Joe Pavelski is showing little wear and tear; he’s 2-2-4 in his last two games, his +31 is tied with New Jersey’s Ryan Graves for first in the league and he’s tied for second in points on Dallas with 44. But this is more about vibes and less about numbers — San Jose shouldn’t allow the former captain to score on them for the third time this season.

It’s unlikely that Pavelski wins the game for Dallas, but you should never underestimate the motivational power of playing against a former team, let alone one that made you captain.

Bold prediction: Sharks win 6-3, becoming the first NHL team ever to score six on Oettinger. Hertl nabs two goals and an assist. Pavelski scores a late goal.