Sharks at Rangers Preview: Bruised, but back at it

In just their second back-to-back of the season, San Jose will need to be ready for the jump against a scary offensive team.

The San Jose Sharks are buzzing as they make their way to Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Rangers for the first time since Feb. 22, 2020. The team is 13-9-1 and has won all three games on this road trip thus far. Tonight is just their second back-to-back of the season, though, and after a hard-fought match in Elmont last night, it’s going to be a battle to squeeze out a victory.

Meanwhile, the Rangers had yesterday off and haven’t traveled recently either, which means they’ll have fresh legs for tonight. They’ve enjoyed an amazing campaign up to this point, sitting at 14-4-3, ranking sixth in the league.

The Rangers are on a four-game winning streak en route to this matchup, beating the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers while outscoring their opponents 18-8 in the process. Elite goaltending combined with the strong offense has made for a very lethal team.

Currently, the Rangers have two players scoring above a point-per-game pace. Artemi Panarin has registered 23 points (6 goals, 17 assists) through 21 games to lead the way. The other is reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox, whose 22 points (4 goals, 18 assists) leads all defensemen in scoring this season. With these two names highlighting the team’s scoring, it’s no surprise they rank top-10 in both power play and shooting percentage.

With this game, the Sharks will also get their first look at former first-overall selection Alexis Lafreniere. Due to the shortened season with divisional play only, San Jose didn’t see the Rangers last year, so it’ll be exciting to watch Lafreniere play. Through this season, he has scored just 5 goals and 1 assist, playing in a condensed bottom-six role.

The Rangers also possess Chris Kreider, who is third in the NHL in goals scored (16), trailing Leon Draisaitl (20) and Alexander Ovechkin (19). Unfortunately for the Sharks, they have allowed the most points from Kreider of all Pacific Division teams, as he has 10 points through 12 games against San Jose in his career.

Expect to see Igor Shesterkin in net for the Rangers. He’s making noise and putting together a Vezina-caliber season for himself, with a 12-3-2 record and .935 save percentage. His show-stopping abilities allow him to make quick, big saves and are a key piece to New York’s early success.

James Reimer will be back in the net for the Sharks after a big game from Adin Hill last night. He’s won four of his last five starts.

Will Gadjovich play tonight?

If Jonah Gadjovich can’t go tonight after a rough-looking lower-body injury, expect to see Lane Pederson back in the line-up.

Sharks coach Bob Boughner told media after the game that Gadjovich tried to come back and that X-rays were negative on the ankle, but he had trouble putting weight on it.

Overall good news for an injury that initially looked very scary, but it’s still not confirmed he’ll make it back into the line-up tonight.

Can the Sharks finally squeeze out a win against the Rangers?

Due to the Sharks and Rangers being in opposing conferences, they normally play each other just two times per season, and along with that, the COVID-19 pandemic had the pair refrain from playing each other for over a year.

Although it is a little shocking, it’s not a huge surprise that the Sharks have failed to defeat the Rangers since Oct. 23, 2017. Just five Sharks players who played in that game remain with the team today, and just two players from the Rangers team are still with them as well, so a lot has changed since that win.

I’d say the odds are stacked up against the Sharks at the moment. They’re on the second half of a back-to-back and are on the fourth game of this road trip. Travel and fatigue are something that has to be taken into account when it comes to evaluating these games, and I wouldn’t bet on San Jose reigning victorious tonight. However, they’ve been hot lately so I wouldn’t be surprised either.

Can Hertl get cooking against a team he is usually strong against?

Everyone remembers the monumental four-goal performance for Tomas Hertl against the Rangers — wouldn’t it be fun if he did it again?

Seriously though, Hertl has always been great against the Rangers throughout his career. Among Eastern Conference teams, the Rangers are second in Hertl’s most scored-against, trailing just the Carolina Hurricanes. He has totaled 7 goals and 6 assists in 12 games against New York.

The Sharks need some sort of production from Hertl, who has been held off of the board over the last four games and hasn’t been too noticeable, either. A shaky defensive team in New York may be good for him to get his confidence up and some points on the score sheet.

Bold Prediction: Sharks fall to the Rangers once again, but James Reimer makes over 40 saves in a valiant losing effort.