Wild at Sharks preview: Suter rather than later

The boys in blue face a real test to close out the home stand.

The San Jose Sharks (7-4-3, 4th Pacific) end their four game home stand tonight hosting the Minnesota Wild (8-3-2, 2nd Central) at SAP Center. After tonight’s contest, the Sharks have a back to back against the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues, and come home for their next seven, so clear your schedules now. The Wild pose a serious challenge as the Sharks’ last home cooked opponent, as they’ve won seven of their last eight, and have only three regulation losses on the season. Luckily for us, all three of those losses came on the road, and their 3-3-0 road record should give us some semblance of optimism.

The Wild will be playing their fourth of seven games in this road trip tonight in San Jose, and they’re 2-1-0 so far, their lone loss coming against the surging Elias Pettersson and his Vancouver Canucks.

Similarly, Mikael Granlund is on some kind of tear. Granlund leads the Wild with 13 points through 13 games, and is on a 10-game point streak entering tonight’s action. On a lighter, less scary, note, expect some familiar faces on that side of the puck tonight, as Charlie Coyle and Eric Fehr are regular roster players on this Wild team, both former Sharks. While Devan Dubnyk is expected to start, Alex Stalock will be watching from the bench, as his old friends take on his new ones.

The Sharks’ last outing ended the way we hoped it would, but we’d probably have liked to take a smoother route to get there. The free falling Philadelphia Flyers took the Sharks to overtime on the strength of a three goal tie, where new NHL superstar Timo Meier ended things after 13 seconds, setting a franchise record for fastest overtime goal. It wasn’t the only record the Swissman set that night, as his 11 goals through 14 games is the most in Sharks history, and gave him a share of the league lead in goals. Joe Thornton became the oldest player to record a goal in Sharks history, scoring his first since January as the Sharks ended a two-game skid.

The Wild’s last game was not as exciting, as they shelled the St. Louis Blues in the Gateway city to the tune of 5-1. On the back on three first period goals, the Wild were not content to sit on the lead, and by the end of the game they’d out-shot their hosts, 45-16. That win earned the Wild the number two spot in the Central division, and Eric Staal his 400th career goal.

Can the Sharks’ prolific offense solve Devan Dubnyk?

Key among the Wild’s contributors is goaltender Dubnyk, whose .937 save percentage is fourth best in the NHL, and whose 2.07 goals against average is fifth. Dubnyk’s lights out performances do not seem to be entirely the work of the admittedly very good defensive core in front of him either, as his 8.72 goals saved above average is third-best. The Sharks will need to work hard to crack Dubnyk if they want a chance at this thing.

Can Ryan Suter just play the whole friggin’ game already?

The veteran Suter leads the Wild’s defensive corps in the locker room and in the box scores, as his 12 points in 13 games are tops among Minnesota’s blue liners, and his 26 minutes of average time on ice lead the team. That’s actually a conservative share of ice time for Suter compared to recent years, but is still many, many minutes. While his point pace is impressive, seven of his nine assists are secondary, which tend to be more volatile over the course of the season, so we’d expect him to slow down at some point. One wonders if he’d be more effective with less ice time and wouldn’t need to be so subdued and efficient.

Whose line is it anyway?

The Sharks’ line up is in flux this week, only partially due to the questionable status of sweet Czech boy and reigning “Bay’s Best Smile” champion Tomas Hertl. Head coach Peter Deboer has been, let’s go with “creative” with his line up decisions during this home stand, at times scratching Finnish revelation Antti Suomela, at times picking defensive pairings with his eyes closed and at times playing Joe Thornton on the third line. While the wisdom of some of those decisions is debatable (barely), it lends some interest to how the Sharks line up against a very good team with a solid line up and three strong defensive pairs like the Wild.

Bold prediction: Suter plays 65 minutes. Stalock starts, but gets ejected for skating past the red line like Patrick Roy and fighting Aaron Dell. Erik Karlsson scores; we’re just going to keep saying this until it happens.

After tonight, the Sharks head East to take on the Dallas Stars and the Wild continue their California trip to meet the delightfully moribund Los Angeles Kings, both on Thursday.