Devils at Sharks Preview: An MLK Day match-up

Last MLK Day we got a five-goal game from Timo Meier — what’s in store this year?

The New Jersey Devils (28-12-3, second Metropolitan) make their annual trip to SAP Center on Monday to face the San Jose Sharks (13-23-8, seventh Pacific) for the second and final time this season. The last time these two teams met, the Sharks had yet to win a game in regulation, and many hoped a trip to Jersey would be their first. That elusive regulation win wouldn’t come until the following game against the Philadelphia Flyers, as San Jose dropped a tight 2-1 game in Jersey.

In the three months since these teams last met, the Devils have been through a fair few ups and downs. Shortly after the Sharks stopped by Prudential Center, the Devils went on a franchise record-tying 13-game win streak between Oct. 25 and Nov. 23. They also saw a six-game skid throughout mid-December that included four intradivisional games.

The Devils have been strong two weeks into the New Year, earning 11 of 14 possible points this month. The return of forward Ondrej Palat has been somewhat quiet, but helpful to the team regardless. Palat returned to the line-up on Jan. 5 for the first time since Oct. 24. The 31-year-old recorded his first assist of the season on Saturday night during the Devil’s 5-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings.

This year’s Devils team has had a season full of records. They’ve already tied the franchise win streak record, they just set a new NHL road win record, and Jack Hughes’ 54 points (28 goals, 26 assists) has set the franchise record through 43 games. The Devils of last season and the Devils of this one are two completely different teams, yet the players on the roster remain largely the same. Sure, adding forward Ondrej Palat and goaltender Vitek Vanecek is nothing to gloss over, but the core of the team remains the same. New Jersey has already passed the win total from the 2021-22 season, with just under half the season left to play.

After a beatdown from the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night, the Sharks are once again eager to beat the Devils, but it’s not going to be easy.

Will Eyssimont finally score?

Mikey Eyssimont has played just three games with the Sharks since being placed on waivers by the Winnipeg Jets, but in that time he’s seen a few quality scoring opportunities. Prior to joining San Jose, Eyssimont played 19 games with the Jets and recorded one goal and four assists. Despite these unassuming numbers, Eyssimont certainly has shown that he wants to score.

According to MoneyPuck, Eyssimont is creating high and medium-danger shot attempts at the same rate as the Sharks’ top scorers over the last three games. His average Corsi-for percentage over those last three games is 67, among the highest on the team during that time. He seems to be doing the right things and getting to the right spots in order to create scoring opportunities — eventually one has to go in, right?

Can shooting fix the power play?

The power play squad is not necessarily known for being elite, but there have been some true moments of special teams brilliance so far this season. Letting Erik Karlsson go to work alongside Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl has resulted in some beautiful goals. However, the Sharks seem to be pretty quiet on the player-advantage as of late. Aside from a lone power play goal against Los Angeles, the Sharks haven’t scored on the power play since the end of December, when the team faced the Flyers.

Almost anyone who has been to a professional hockey game has heard fans screaming at their team to shoot the puck, and it seems as though the Sharks may need to listen. It’s hard to say that a team has a good chance of scoring when shots aren’t being put on the net, and San Jose doesn’t seem to be putting up many shots when they have an advantage.

Against the Oilers, the Sharks earned two power-play opportunities during the second period and only posted two shots on goal throughout those four minutes. Against the Coyotes and Kings earlier in the week, they also put up just two shots in two power play opportunities. Perhaps shooting more could lead to more goals? Just a thought.

What does the team do to prove the last game was an outlier?

The Friday night loss to the Oilers was rough. Head coach David Quinn put it pretty simply when he said, “We just stunk.” Quinn believed that this game was just one of 82 and that the only real thing to do is flush it and move on. The team’s ability to truly let this go and move on is the only real way to measure if the coach’s beliefs are true. Quinn says this hasn’t happened all year, and all the numbers except the standings seem to agree — but if the squad can’t move forward and play like their usual selves, what do we call it then?

If San Jose gets back to playing their game, the score should be a lot easier to look at this time around. This season’s team hasn’t given up many power play goals, and have posted at least 29 shots in half of their games. The Oilers game saw the Sharks give up two power play goals while notching just 26 shots; will improving either of those things be enough to show that the last game was a one-time thing?

Bold Prediction: Mikey Eyssimont will score, Oskar Lindblom will start a point streak, and the Sharks will take the game to overtime, where they ultimately lose 4-3.