Avalanche at Sharks Preview: New home ice for Nyquist

Will the goose be let loose?

Tonight, the San Jose Sharks (37-19-8, 2nd Pacific) will host the Colorado Avalanche (28-24-12, 5th Central) in Gustav Nyquist’s debut at the SAP Center.

Following a frustrating 4-1 loss in Boston, the Sharks return home looking to close the gap between themselves and the Pacific Division leading Calgary Flames with a win against the Avalanche. This will be the second of three games between the Sharks and Avalanche this season, with San Jose taking an “edge of your seat” style 5-4 win in the first contest, which saw Colorado rally back from being down 5-1.

That being said, it’ll be almost exactly two months since the teams last met, and things can change on a dime in the National Hockey League. After starting February on a five-game win streak, the Sharks have gone 3-3-1 over their last seven games, and as of their most recent contest, lost All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson to a re-aggravated groin injury.

Meanwhile, the Avalanche are on a six-game point streak, posting a 5-0-1 record, and have been riding the incredible play of goaltender and NHL First Star of the Week Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov has helped propel Colorado back into the playoff picture as the second wild card, winning three straight starts (including a 40 save shutout of the Vegas Golden Knights) while posting a .964 save percentage.

Shutting down the “big three”

In the last meeting between these two teams, only one of Colorado’s top three (current 81-point players Nathan Mackinnon and Mikko Rantanen, and 33-goal scorer Gabriel Landeskog) registered a point, an assist from Mackinnon. If the Sharks can force the Avalanche into a game of depth scoring, they’ll have a massive advantage. Outside of their top three players, no one on Colorado’s roster has 50 or more points. Conversely, the Sharks have six players who have crossed the 50 point threshold, with new addition Gustav Nyquist at 49.

Converting on the power play

Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov has been on a tear over his last few games and San Jose will need to generate as many high quality scoring chances as possible to beat him. The Sharks may have an opportunity to do so on the power play, as they rank fifth in the NHL with the man-advantage, while Colorado’s penalty kill sits at 24th.

However, the Sharks will need to be cautious, as the Avalanche’s Carl Soderberg and J.T. Compher are notoriously dangerous counter-attacking on the penalty kill: they’re tied for second most shorthanded goals in the league with three each.

Getting key stops in net

This hasn’t been the best year for the Sharks between the pipes. Goaltender Martin Jones has posted a .896 save percentage thus far, and has faced plenty of scrutiny from fans for letting in what often appear to be soft, easily stoppable goals. While the Sharks shouldn’t rely on him to carry them to victory tonight, he’ll need to be on his game against Mackinnon and company.

Bold prediction: Gustav Nyquist scores in his home debut, and the Sharks win 3-1.