Senators at Sharks Preview: A totally winnable game

Definitely not jinxing this one!

There are exactly four teams in the NHL with a worse record than the San Jose Sharks (6-11-3, seventh Pacific) and the Ottawa Senators (6-10-1, eighth Atlantic) are one of them. The Sens enter Monday’s game the latest victim of the New Jersey Devils’ 12-game winning streak, dropping 5-1 to the team on Saturday.

Ottawa had high hopes at the start of the season. Over the summer, the Senators made a blockbuster deal with the Chicago Blackhawks to add forward Alex DeBrincat. Then, the team welcomed Claude Giroux home and added depth players like Derick Brassard to support the young players on the team. Goaltender Cam Talbot was brought in to share duties with Anton Forsberg. Josh Norris and Tim Stuetzle signed contract extensions. Yes, the season looked promising.

Then the injury bug hit key players. Norris has not played since he left the game on Oct. 21 of this year with a shoulder injury. The young, dynamic forward could miss the entire season. Top defender Thomas Chabot is also out. He was added to IR on Nov. 11 with a concussion. He’s expected to miss at least a week, but with concussions, you never know.

The Senators have gotten better as of late. The team pulled out of a seven-game losing streak on Nov. 12 with a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Since then, Ottawa has swung back and forth between wins and losses. The team lost to the New York Islanders but beat the Buffalo Sabres before falling victim to the Devils. If the pattern holds, the Sharks may end up on the losing end of things.

How do the Sharks respond?

The question in this game is how the team responds after Saturday’s loss to the New York Rangers. Head coach David Quinn was less than complimentary of the team’s play in the third period of the 2-1 loss and didn’t hold back after the game.

“It was a little bit of everything — lack of effort, lack of compete, lack of energy. It’s surprising in the way we’ve played — you guys have watched, it hasn’t been how we’ve been. That’s the disappointing part,” said Quinn.

He even went so far as to call the players soft.

“There was no ‘oomph’ in our game, there was no ‘F you’ in our battles, we were just soft,” said Quinn.

If we’ve learned anything about hockey, it’s that players don’t like to be called soft. It will be interesting to see how the players respond in the first 10 minutes of the game against Ottawa. They’ve talked a lot about the pride in the locker room and the belief that they’re better than the record shows. Now, it’s time to see if they can prove it.

Who starts in net?

James Reimer was outstanding in Saturday’s loss against the Rangers, making 41 saves for a .976 save percentage. He was the reason San Jose was in the game to begin with, making save after outstanding save even after giving up the first goal.

And of course, prior to that, there was this sequence of saves that stymied the Rangers:

Reimer has more than earned a start on Monday night, but I’m not sure if he should have it. Reimer has started the last five games and is due a break. Kaapo Kahkonen hasn’t had a start since Nov. 10, when he gave up four goals to the St. Louis Blues.

Reimer needs a rest and Kahkonen needs a start. What better time to do that than against a team like the Senators?

Can Erik Karlsson get off the schneid?

This is a tongue-in-cheek question, sort of. Listen, Karlsson’s resurgence is one of the bright spots of this season. It would be amazing to see him win a Norris Trophy while the team still holds on to a spot in the race for Connor Bedard.

Karlsson didn’t score against the Rangers on Saturday night. He’s only been held off the scoreboard in five games this season. With 11 goals and 17 assists, totaling 28 points, Karlsson is tied for third among all players (Nikita Kucherov and David Pastrnak also have 28) in the league in scoring. He trails only the dynamic duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The closest defenseman on the list is the Rangers’ Adam Fox with 21 points.

That’s pace-setting for a career year. If he wins a Norris, that’s something Sharks fans can celebrate. Or, maybe a team pegged to win the Stanley Cup comes knocking on general manager Mike Grier’s door. That’s not a bad thing for a Sharks team that’s in cap trouble and rebuilding on the fly. JD Young explored what to do with Karlsson in this previous post.

Needless to say, Karlsson scoring more can only mean good things for the Sharks and the fans.

Bold Prediction: Logan Couture is so angry about how the team performed on Saturday that he notches his second career Gordie Howe hat trick. Meanwhile, Tomas Hertl follows Couture’s lead and adds one of his own. The Sharks unleash all of their offensive scoring might against the unsuspecting Senators, winning 9-2. Kahkonen gets the win and some confidence. Karlsson logs six points (2 goals, 4 assists), passing Draisaitl and catching McDavid in the scoring race.