Red Wings at Sharks Preview: One mo’ win against Motown

The Sharks are looking for a fourth consecutive win.

The San Jose Sharks (6-9-3, sixth Pacific) are returning home to host the Detroit Red Wings (7-5-4, fifth Atlantic). After a four-game road swing where the team went 3-1-0,  pulling together the first consecutive wins of the season, San Jose will face three Eastern Conference teams in a row for a brief homestand. The team’s only other game against Red Wings will be at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Jan. 24, 2023.

The Wings have been rebuilding for several years now, but Dylan Larkin and company appear to be getting closer to their playoff aspirations. Last season, the team finished 32-40-10 with 74 points, good for sixth in the Atlantic Division. Detroit ranked 25th in the league’s goal-scoring and 30th in goals-against.

One of the biggest additions in the summer of 2021, goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, struggled mightily with consistency, but he fared much better than the other netminders that were given a shot in the Red Wings crease. The now 26-year-old earned 20 wins in 52 starts, and was the only goaltender on the team to finish with a save percentage above .900.

However, a pair of Detroit’s silver linings were standout rookies Lucas Raymond (LW) and Moritz Seider (D). The two first-round picks (Seider in 2019 and Raymond in 2020) are already on the verge of becoming stars. Just take a look at their usage — Seider already leads his team in time on ice per game at 23:00, and Raymond is second only to captain Dylan Larkin among forwards in time on ice.

This past summer, general manager Steve Yzerman made changes that signaled his belief that the young core was ready to make a playoff push. First, he replaced head coach Jeff Blashill with Derek Lalonde. Lalonde had previously spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning — as close to a modern-era dynasty as we have seen. Then, on the first day of free agency, Yzerman inked Andrew Copp (C), Ben Chiarot (D), David Perron (LW), Dominik Kubalik (LW) and Olli Maatta (D) to new contracts.

Unsatisfied with his goaltending from the year prior, Yzerman also acquired young goaltender Ville Husso, who came into his own last year with the St. Louis Blues, taking over Jordan Binnington’s starting job for most of the year. These additions have already done work to add depth to a young core, provide some of the main scoring and, in Ville Husso’s case, stabilize the Red Wings’ crease.

Currently, Detroit sits in the middle of the Atlantic Division standings, nearly keeping pace with last year’s best regular season team, the Florida Panthers, and the perennial Eastern Conference Champion Lightning. This will be the final stop of the California portion of their roadtrip. So far, the Wings have lost to Los Angeles and Anaheim, both by one goal each.

Can the Sharks keep the streak alive?

Not to get too excited, but the Sharks have won three games in a row. That’s a pretty big deal considering that prior to this streak, the team hadn’t strung together two consecutive games at all this season. Sure, last week’s three shootout loses in a row might have been fun and exciting with Erik Karlsson’s hat trick and all of the extra minutes of hockey, but to be honest, it feels a lot better to win. Wouldn’t it be nice to keep this going?

The Red Wings will be plenty motivated after two aggravating loses to the Sharks’ California rivals. Let’s see if San Jose can start this homestand off on the right foot by sending Detroit back with a goose-egg on this California swing.

Cicek? Harrington? Someone else?

With Radim Simek out, San Jose quickly called up rookie Nick Cicek to fill in as the sixth defender against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday. Cicek made some momentary rookie mistakes, but seemed to overcome fairly well in the pressure-packed rivalry game. It’s possible David Quinn may want to give another look to Scott Harrington, who made the team on a professional try-out and has over two hundred NHL games to his name.

Simek had been playing admirably up until his injury from the controversial hit in Minnesota. If his injury turns out to be more long-term, and neither Cicek nor Harrington can impress the coaching staff enough, current Barracuda players such as Ryan Merkley, Artemi Kniazev or Santeri Hatakka may eventually get a look.

Third Period Magic

On the topic of this recent hot streak the Sharks seem to be on, the last two games in particular have been special. On the road against Minnesota, San Jose overcame a two-goal deficit with less than 10 minutes left in the game to come back and beat the Wild. Then, at the rowdy T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the Sharks first tied the game early in the third on a goal from Matt Nieto, before Timo Meier pulled the team ahead late in the third period with less than three minutes left.

This has been a remarkable turnaround, considering the amount of discussion surrounding the team’s lackluster second- and third-period performances earlier in the year. Up until the game against the Philadelphia Flyers, eight games into the season, the Sharks hadn’t even scored in the third period. Is this recent surge an aberration? Or has the team finally figured out a way to keep on the pressure for a full sixty minutes?

Bold prediction: Erik Karlsson will pop off at SAP Center once again, getting a goal and three assists in the first period alone. The Red Wings will make a valiant attempt to come back and make things scary for the fans, but the Sharks in their sharp teal sweaters will scrape by with a 4-3 victory to earn a fourth win in a row.