Rangers at Sharks Preview: A Study in Blue

Can the Sharks at least be undefeated against one team?

The San Jose Sharks (6-10-3, sixth Pacific) are back at it again, this time hosting one of the NHL’s most exciting teams, the New York Rangers (8-6-4, fourth Metropolitan), who are in the midst of a pacific coast road trip, and still looking to fully establish themselves amongst the league’s best. Yesterday, the Rangers lost 3-2 in overtime to Martin Jones and the Seattle Kraken. New York hasn’t won more than three in a row yet this year, and topped out with a four-game losing streak. Coincidentally, that streak began with a 3-2 overtime loss at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 20, featuring a pretty game-winning goal by none other than Erik Karlsson. Tomorrow marks the final regular-season match-up against the Rangers this year.

Thus far in November, the Blueshirts have gone 3-4-1, with wins over the Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes. Some of those three losses came at the hands of big Eastern Conference rivals, the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders.

The team’s big guns, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and 2021 Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox have all gotten off to a great start, with 20 goals between the trio. In goal, Igor Shesterkin has continued to carry the majority of the burden, boasting a 8-2-0 record and .914 save percentage. Newly acquired back-up, Jaroslav Halak, has struggled to find his groove, going 0-4-1 with a 3.22 goals-against average and .883 save percentage. It’s possible New York will look to acquire a second goaltender to help ease the load on Shesterkin if this trend progresses.

Last month, the Rangers gave the Sharks the team’s first win of the season, but it wasn’t easy. The team had start the season with a trend of scoring first just to lose, so when Logan Couture opened scoring in the first period, it wasn’t much of a shock that New York answered back with two consecutive goals in the second period. Radim Simek brought it back to a tied game before the period was over, and Karlsson’s overtime heroics pulled them through.

Most notable though was the number of penalties in the previous meeting, New York serving six minutes and San Jose totaling 10, six of those comes from Luke Kunin alone.

Since that first win of the season, the Sharks have gone on to add five additional wins and eight losses. The progress has been steady, but it certainly hasn’t been drastic.

Can someone help out Karlsson?

Erik Karlsson has been on an offensive tear and we are witnessing something special. Karlsson has notched 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists), while the team as a whole has scored 56 goals total. He has contributed to exactly half of the team’s total offensive output. There’s literally only one person that has more points in the NHL so far than Karlsson, and that’s Connor McDavid. With 11 goals after his game-tying goal against Detroit last night, Karlsson ranks fifth on the NHL leaderboard.

But all good things must come to an end, and shooting at 18.6 percent isn’t the most sustainable bit of puck luck. Who will be there to help out when Karlsson’s rampant scoring streak inevitably cools down? (Seriously, it has to cool down at some point, right?)

So many players are due for a break-through. Oscar Lindblom and Nick Bonino have yet to score a goal, while Alexander Barabanov has just one to his name so far.

Goaltending highs and lows...

After the big win against Vegas, head coach David Quinn noted that goaltender James Reimer had “elevated his game.” His start against Detroit was his fourth in a row, but he was the first to acknowledge that last night’s game was not his best. Of course, it can’t all fall on Reimer; the Sharks entered the season with a tandem mindset. Reimer cannot be expected to play Shesterkin-like minutes for San Jose, nor should he be expected to.

Kaapo Kahkonen will likely get a chance either against the Rangers or Ottawa Senators on this homestand. He will have to come out with a solid performance to earn back the confidence of the coaching staff, but it would also be nice to give his partner in goal a well-deserved night off.

Cicek here to stay?

Defender Scott Harrington was placed on waivers yesterday, and has officially cleared as of this morning. He will finally get some minutes with the San Jose Barracuda, who have also been struggling with injuries to the defensive corps. This means that Nick Cicek, who earned his first NHL point against Detroit, will get a longer look at the blue line.

Quinn’s update on Radim Simek yesterday was that he hasn’t had any setbacks and should be available “sooner than later,” so Cicek needs to take advantage of however much time he has at the NHL level and show how far he can elevate his game.

Bold prediction: Kaapo Kahkonen will steal the game. He has the skill and talent to compete with some of the league’s best — and he will certainly have his hands (or gloves) full against Kreider, Zibanejad, Fox and Panarin. Marc-Eduoard Vlasic will score his first goal of the season, and the Sharks will escape with a narrow, 2-1 victory on home ice.