Flyers at Sharks Preview: Welcome back, Martin Jones

Both teams are within reach of a Wild Card spot, but inconsistency on the ice has left them clawing for points.

If there are two teams within the NHL that desperately need a win, it’s the San Jose Sharks and Philadelphia Flyers. Both teams are in reach of a Wild Card spot technically, but inconsistency on the ice has left both organizations clawing for points.

The Flyers are currently sixth in the Metropolitan Division, with a 12-12-5 record, and the Sharks are barely ahead, at fifth in the Pacific Division, with a 16-14-1 record. The reintroduction of the NHL’s taxi squad has allowed for each team to bring some younger players into the fold. The Sharks have yet to fill out their taxi squad, instead of relying on their ease of pulling AHL players up and down.

Philadelphia is rolling with Cam York, Kirill Ustimenko, Flexi Sandstrom, Gerald Mayhew and Jackson Cates on their taxi squad, and any of these players may get slot in to account for COVID Protocol against the Sharks. San Jose has only Nick Merkley and Zach Sawchenko on their taxi squad.

Prior to the pause, the Flyers have had an overall decent December. The team started the month off with a three-game losing streak, but went on to win or earn a point in their last six games. It hasn’t been easy — their last three games have all gone to overtime, and the one loss in those six games came in a shootout against the Montreal Canadiens.

The turnaround coincides with a front office cleanout that resulted in Mike Yeo being named the club’s interim head coach on Dec. 6. The team visited the Seattle Kraken last night, winning 3-2 in overtime. We’ll see how the new coaching staff handles the second half of a back-to-back on the road.

Goaltender Martin Jones started for the Flyers last night, but with starter Carter Hart in COVID Protocol, it’s possible the Sharks see their former netminder on the other side of the ice tonight.

Can the Sharks bounce back?

Game play was … less than ideal against the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday. As much as a 14-goal-game is exciting for fans, it was exactly the sort of game coaches hate. Offensive zone turnovers, defensive miscommunication and sloppy, fast-paced neutral zone play made for a much closer game than it should have been. The Sharks have been getting into bad habits, and while there’s going to be rust coming back from a 10-day break, the team needs to corral their errant passes, simplify their forecheck and provide more defensive coverage in and behind their own net.

San Jose has been sliding further in the standings, and with a Wild Card spot fully in reach but slipping away with every loss, they need to bounce back.

Can Reimer hold up in net?

With Adin Hill in COVID Protocol, the Sharks only have two options in net for as long has that persists: James Reimer and Zach Sawchenko. Reimer has been the stalwart veteran starter and presence in the locker room, but he posted a .848 save percentage on 39 saves on 46 shots. Needless to say, despite being left out to dry by his defense, it still wasn’t his best game.

But the Sharks will likely be riding Reimer until Hill tests negative. Sawchenko is a smart decision to keep on their taxi squad, but the San Jose Barracuda goaltending has been fraught with inconsistency and it’s unlikely that Sawchenko will be making much of an appearance for the Sharks.

Will the Sharks shuffle the lines more?

Definitely. Offense has been a huge point of contention and while eight goals in a single game might be something to look forward to, there was no one particular line that found consistent success on the ice.

The bright side of reintroducing a taxi squad is that the Sharks can easily swap Barracuda players in and out. The two clubs have coordinated their playing systems in such a way that the transition between the AHL and NHL is relatively seamless for players. It allows the Sharks to flex their depth, dip into their deep pool of talented, developing AHL players and try different line combinations with a larger group of players.

Bold prediction: If the Sharks win and allow less than five goals, I’ll be happy. Sharks win, but barely.