Sharks at Islanders Preview: Fishing for first win
Let’s go for five in a row!
The San Jose Sharks kick off the annual October East Coast trip against the New York Islanders. The Sharks have yet to find a win, going 0-4-0 while giving up five goals, including two short-handed goals from (checks notes) Sam Lafferty and the tanking Chicago Blackhawks. Things are looking bleak, so perhaps hitting the road will help the team find their grove.
The Islanders missed playoffs last season after finishing fifth in the Metropolitan. The season started on a lengthy road trip, while the finishing touches on UBS Arena were completed, and Lou Lamoriello brand hockey just wasn’t enough to overcome the poor start for the Islanders.
This off-season was relatively quiet, as the Isles traded away a first-round pick for defender Alexander Romanov to the Montreal Canadiens in a draft day deal (later that day, the Habs flipped the pick to Chicago for Kirby Dach). The Islanders used their second-round selection on defenseman Calle Odelius out of Djurgårdens.
This extended into the off-season, where Lamoriello must have scheduled vacation, or else no one told him when free agency started — the Islanders didn’t make a signing until Aug. 17! Instead, the team spent the off-season taking care of their own players, including signing Mathew Barzal to an eight-year, $73.2 million contract extension that will kick in next season.
New York is coming off a 7-1 shellacking of the Anaheim Ducks over the weekend, with defenders Scott Mayfield and Robin Salo each scoring twice and netminder Ilya Sorokin stopping 22 of 23 Ducks’ shots.
In terms of injuries, Timo Meier and Mario Ferraro are considered day-to-day, but both played their full complement of minutes this weekend. Alexander Barabanov has been close to making his season debut and could be doing so this week. The Islanders have been dealing with injuries, including placing Sebastian Aho (not that one) on injured reserve retroactively on Oct. 8, but could return on Tuesday if he is healthy enough.
Once again: can San Jose cross the two-goal mark?
The Sharks have scored six goals in four games. Quick math says that is 1.5 goals per game. This is tied with the Ottawa Senators for league-worst so far this young season.
San Jose ranks 25th in the league in shots per game and the power play has been abysmal, scoring just one goal while giving up two short-handed. The team hasn’t been able to convert on any high-danger chances so far this year, while giving up seven such goals at 5-on-5.
Superstar forwards Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl have a combined two points, both notched in the first game of the season. Meier ranks 20th in the NHL in expected goals at 5-on-5, but has yet to light the lamp. The Sharks have gotten some secondary scoring from the likes of Evgeny Svechnikov and Nico Sturm recently, but the team will only go as far as Meier and Hertl can carry them — so far, they haven’t gotten the puck luck.
Will head coach David Quinn look to get the pair going with more offensive zone starts? The offensive juggernaut third line of Nick Bonino, Matt Nieto and Oskar Lindblom are tied with the Hertl-led second line, making 17 offensive zone starts so far this season.
Stoppable force versus movable object?
Last year, the Islanders loved playing low-event hockey. The team ranked 27th in shot attempts last season (somehow worst than San Jose) and also gave the up the most shot attempts (not worse than San Jose). The Sharks have obviously struggled to create sustained offense and have been outshot in every game except one so far. Which team will be able to create sustained offense? Or will there just be a bunch of passes in the neutral zone, as each team effectively takes a knee and waits until overtime?
On special teams, both teams put out exceptional penalty kill units that ranked second (Sharks) and fourth (Islanders) last season and are perfect to start this season. The Islanders' power play ranked 12th last year, at a 22.1 percent clip. If the Sharks' power play continues to struggle, it could be the edge that the Islanders need in a game that could be low on goals.
Expect James Reimer to get the start in net, as he has been nothing short of fantastic, posting 2.2 goals saved above expected, ninth-best in the league. Across the ice, Ilya Sorokin has been exceptional, as well, proving why he could be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy next spring. If one goaltender blinks, that could be the difference in what should be a low-scoring game.
Which 2015 draft member will reign supreme?
The battle between Timo Meier (drafted ninth overall) and Mathew Barzal (drafted 16th overall) has been a fun exercise throughout their careers.
Meier has the edge in goals, but Barzal has provided more points. Last season, Meier scored or assisted on 36 percent of Sharks goals, while Barzal was in on 25.7 percent of his own team’s goals. This season, Barzal is already off to a hot start, racking up three assists in two games, while Meier has hit the post at least 52 times so far (we already checked this statement for accuracy, no need to confirm that number).
Both players can single-handedly take over a game and this should be no exception. Which 2015 first-rounder can get his team on track tomorrow night?
Bold prediction: Meier and Hertl both light the lamp, but the power play continues to struggle, and the Isles take advantage with a short-handed goal to win 4-2 — keeping the Sharks firmly in the driver seat for the Connor Bedard sweepstakes.