Sharks at Avalanche Preview: Turn a new page

The Sharks look to start the 2019 calendar year on the right skate.

The San Jose Sharks (21-13-7, 3rd Pacific Division) travel to the high altitude of Denver to play the Colorado Avalanche (19-13-8, 3rd Central Division) to close out their three-game road trip.

The Avalanche were surprisingly hot in October and November, but had a dismal December. They went 5-7-3 in the final month of 2018 and have lost their last five games. Four of those losses have been to some of the bottom teams in the NHL: Chicago, Arizona, Chicago again, and Los Angeles most recently.

The Avalanche also had an injury spell to end 2018, with three players on the injured list as of Jan. 1 and two others “sidelined.” Forward Colin Wilson is the most prominent injured player; he has been out since Dec. 22 with a shoulder injury.

In Tuesday’s optional skate in Denver, goaltender Semyon Varlamov did not participate for a maintenance day. Philipp Grubauer will start for the Avalanche.

Avs’ Offensive Leaders

As was the case against the Calgary Flames, several players on the Colorado roster outpace every Shark in scoring. Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon are second and third in the league in scoring, and Gabriel Landeskog has cracked the top 20.

The majority of Rantanen’s points have come as assists during 5-on-5 play. He has 45 total assists so far, of which 26 are 5-on-5 and often on goals by MacKinnon and Landeskog.

MacKinnon and Landeskog are pretty balanced in their scoring, with 31 of MacKinnon’s 59 points coming during 5-on-5. Of those 31 points, 15 are goals and 16 are assists. For Landeskog, he has 11 goals and 10 assists at 5-on-5 and an equal number (eight) of goals and assists while on the power play.

An Opportunity to Seize

The Avs’ season has been driven by their shooting percentage. In the first two months, they had a notably high shooting percentage; in December, their accuracy fell below 7 percent. According to Tom Hunter at Mile High Hockey, the Avalanche were relying on their top line. Having one hot line is fun to watch, but simply cannot last.

The Avalanche have had trouble scoring more than two goals during their turbulent December. If the Sharks can get an average-or-better goalkeeping performance, that puts them in a good position to win. The Sharks are fifth in the league in Goals-For per game at 3.41.

Correct Monday’s Mistakes

On the stats sheet, the Sharks had a pretty good game against Calgary. They led in possession metrics, but made key mistakes that affected the outcome.

Yesterday, our Sheng Peng wrote 8 New Year’s Resolutions for the Sharks, noting the Sharks’ defensive liabilities. Allowing the Flames to escape their coverage, and/or not picking up open Flames, really doomed the Sharks in Calgary. If the Sharks can keep on their guy, notice and cover open players, and communicate well, they can fix it.

Another issue with the defense will come with the status of Radim Simek, who was hit late in the third period against Calgary. There's been no update on his status, but Brent Burns may have to adjust to playing with Joakim Ryan again if Simek is unavailable for tonight's game.