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Sharks at Avalanche Preview: San Jose A-Team takes on Colorado B-Team

The San Jose Sharks continue on the road, leaving Canada and moving on to Denver to take on the Colorado Avalanche. This will be the team’s first game with a healthy line up since Oct. 28, when the team lost 4-0 to the Montreal Canadiens.

Coming into tonight, the Sharks hold a 7-5-1 record on the season, currently ranked sixth in the Pacific Division. They most recently fell 4-1 to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday. The Sharks played a sloppy game and didn’t look completely engaged with the action. That should change with the fresh bodies returning to the line up.

From injuries to COVID issues, it been a rough go to start the Avalanche’s season. They currently stand fifth in the Central Division with a 5-5-1 record. Colorado may have some momentum coming into this game though, as they just gave the Vancouver Canucks a beating on Thursday, earning a big 7-1 victory.

Nazem Kadri (3 goals, 8 assists), and Gabriel Landeskog (5 goals, 6 assists) are tied for team lead with 11 points each. J.T. Compher is the Avalanche’s leading goal-scorer, with six.

On the injury front, the Avs are without star forward Nathan MacKinnon, who is set to miss three weeks with a lower-body injury. In addition, defender Bowen Byram is day-to-day with an upper-body injury and back-up goaltender Pavel Francouz is on long-term injured reserve with an ankle injury.

Sharks forwards Lane Pederson likely will not play tonight after taking a hit from Jets defender Logan Stanley on Thursday. He was helped off of the ice in the second period and returned for a single shift in the third period, but didn’t play after that.

At practice on Friday, Logan Couture centered the first line with Timo Meier and Jonathan Dahlen. On the second line, Tomas Hertl was paired with Alexander Barabanov and Rudolfs Balcers. The bottom-six was rounded out with a third line of Nick Bonino, Matthew Nieto and Kevin Labanc, and fourth line of Jasper Weatherby, Nick Merkley and Andrew Cogliano.

No confirmation on the defensive pairings, but it’s likely that Mario Ferraro will play with Brent Burns on the first pairing, Jake Middleton and Erik Karlsson on the second pairing and Marc-Edouard Vlasic with Radim Simek on the third pairing, barring any tinkering by Bob Boughner in his return behind the bench.

Darcy Kuemper has been the Avalanche’s starting goaltender for a good chunk of the season. He holds a 5-4-0 record, posting a .911 save percentage (SV%) and -3.46 goals saved above expected (GSAx). He’s a talented goaltender, but along with that talent lies inconsistency, so the Sharks won’t know if they’re facing him on a good performance day or a bad one until it happens.

On the other side of the ice will be Adin Hill between the pipes. Boughner said he wants to start riding the hot hand and Hill’s most recent game was a dominating performance in a win over the Calgary Flames.

Hill has gone 4-3-0 on the season, with a .904 SV% and -1.26 GSAx. He started off the season poor while adjusting to the new team, but he has slowly started to find his way and trend in the right direction. He’ll look to build off of his recent success tonight.

How will the returning players do?

It will be interesting to watch how the returning Sharks players perform tonight. We know that COVID affects people in different ways and it may take some players more time to get settled back into the line up.

Labanc and Karlsson will slot back into the second power play unit, which has struggled to convert lately. Will their additions bring some life back to the special teams department? What about the return of big-body defenseman Jake Middleton in the top-four? His presence brought energy to the Sharks when he was on the ice, especially when he was laying a hit or making a good defensive stop. Lots to look towards to tonight with these players back at it.

Does Brent Burns continue his reign of terror on the blue line?

Brent Burns has been fantastic with the Sharks this season, especially in terms of tackling big minutes with four defensemen out for six games. He’s averaged 27:02 minutes of ice time per game, and currently has 1 goal and 12 points through 13 games, making him the leading the scorer on the team.

The 36-year-old is currently riding a six-game point streak, which was extended on Thursday from his setup on the only Sharks goal. The top pairing of Burns and Ferraro has been the only source of offensive life coming from the blue line since Karlsson has been out, and the team will need that to continue it if they want to prolong this success.

Will Merkley make his mark?

This is likely the biggest opportunity Nick Merkley will see with the Sharks so far, and he’ll need to take it and run. Despite already outperforming Pederson this season, it seems as though the coaching staff isn’t completely willing to take Pederson out of the line up just yet. If Merkley makes his mark tonight, it’ll make that decision that much harder for the coaching staff.

As mentioned earlier, Merkley practiced on the fourth line yesterday, with Weatherby and Cogliano. This is usually where Pederson would be prior to his injury. He’s getting the exact same opportunity that Pederson has had up to this point, so we’ll see how he does in this scenario.

Bold Prediction: The Sharks squeeze out a close one over a depleted Avalanche line up and win scoring fewer than three goals.

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