Wild at Sharks Preview: Containing Kirill the Thrill
San Jose clashes with Minnesota for the second time this season, hoping to extend the season series record to 2-0-0.
Coming off of a big come from behind win against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, the San Jose Sharks will host the Minnesota Wild as they look to get going on a winning streak at the SAP Center.
Winning won't be an easy task for the Sharks, as the Wild arguably have been the best team in the league this season, holding an 18-6-1 record, including a seven-game winning streak heading into this game. Their most recent win came on Tuesday, somehow easily taking down the two-headed monster in Edmonton, 4-1.
The thing that makes the Wild so special is the team’s ability to dominate in the offensive zone while also making very minimal mistakes in the defensive end. They're among the top in the league in goals per game and shots per game, while in the top half in goals allowed per game and shots on goal allowed per game.
I think we're all familiar with the Russian superstar Kirill Kaprizov, who has been amazing this season. Since these teams last met on Nov. 16, he has netted 19 points (6 goals, 13 assists) through 10 games, and now rides an active six-game point streak. Overall on the season, he's tied for fifth in the league in points with 30 (9 goals, 21 assists), so he's certain to be a factor in tonight's match.
Winger Ryan Hartman is another player to watch out for in tonight's game. He leads the Wild in goals with 13 and has totaled 21 points through 25 games while barely relying on the power play for his production. He's a big energy player, and he can suck the momentum out of the opposing team when he gets on a roll.
Expect to see Cam Talbot in net for the Wild. The 34-year-old netminder is tied for first in wins in the NHL, boasting a 14-5-0 record and a .919 save percentage. He has struggled against the Sharks throughout his career, going 6-8-3 with a .886 save percentage.
As for the Sharks, it'll be Adin Hill guarding the cage. He's coming off a 40-save win against the Flames, and has improved to 6-7-0 with a .905 save percentage on the season.
Will Tomas Hertl carry his play from last game into this one?
Sharks fans got to witness Hertl finally break through on Tuesday night, as the Czech center scored his first hat trick since the 2018-19 season to power the team past the division-leading Flames. Now it’s up to Hertl to continue to lead the team offensively against the Wild.
Hertl has notched 12 goals and 5 assists through 26 games, including 4 goals through the last two games. This could be the start of a nice hot streak, which would be more than welcome, given both the Sharks’ scoring troubles and Hertl’s own five-game point drought before those two games.
In 25 career games against the Wild, Hertl has totaled 7 goals and 10 assists, while shooting at 16.3 percent. These are solid numbers, showing that he's always been consistent.
Can the power play build some consistency?
The Sharks finally got some production from their power play on Tuesday against the Flames, as the special teams unit went two-for-two on the man-advantage. We've seen slow improvement, and I wonder if this could help the team build some consistency as the season advances.
Logan Couture, Brent Burns and Hertl in particular stood out, with Burns and Hertl powering the second unit. Imagine the amount of production the Sharks could unlock if they start producing on the special teams. They could all be at or near point-per-game, and we could stop talking about the Sharks' scoring struggles this season.
The last game was a great start, but San Jose needs to bring that same energy at any chance they get tonight.
Can the defensive core bounce back after a rough game?
Despite the offensive bonanza, it was not a fun game for the Sharks' blue line against the Flames. They were glaringly bad in the first and third periods, and not a single one of them were over 50 percent in expected goals percentage (xG%).
Burns and Mario Ferraro are crucial pieces to this team, and for the Sharks to be good, they need the top pairing to be good. They have been at times, but both players have been sloppy in the corners and lazy in front of the net at other moments. They were both at fault for goals against the Sharks last game, and that can't turn into something that happens repeatedly.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Nicholas Meloche also had a rough outing against the Flames. Whether Radim Simek slots back in for Meloche or not, that third pairing can't be the reason the Sharks get scored on every game, especially under limited ice time.
The Sharks need to tighten up defensively. Again, this seems like something that has been said all season, and it's kind of crazy to think that it still hasn't been addressed.
Bold Prediction: Hertl scores again, but the Wild take it in extra time.