Sharks at Rangers Preview: Empire State of Mind

It can only go up from here? Right?

After another tragic second period and another notch in the loss column, the San Jose Sharks will make the short hop from Long Island to Midtown Manhattan. Heading into Madison Square Garden on Thursday, the Sharks are still looking for that elusive first win of the season. It won’t be easy to secure one against the New York Rangers.

New York made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final last season before falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games. In the off-season, the Rangers allowed players like Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp to walk and brought in Vincent Trocheck and Kaapo Kakko.

In goal, last year’s back-up Alexander Georgiev is now in Seattle. Jaroslav Halak slid into the role behind starter Igor Shesterkin. New York also added a little more depth in net, signing Louis Domingue as netminder number three.

The Rangers picked up right where the team left off at the end of last season, firing on all cylinders. The team has gone 3-1-0 in this young season, outscoring opponents 17-12. New York isn’t playing basement dwellers, either. The team’s three wins came against the Lightning, Minnesota Wild and Anaheim Ducks.

Where have the top scorers gone?

The Sharks continue to hit that wall at two goals a game. Over five losses, the most San Jose has scored is two goals. That third goal eludes the players.

That is, in part, due to the fact that the top guys aren’t playing like the top guys. With Nico Sturm’s goal against the New York Islanders on Tuesday, he is now the Sharks’ top scorer. Before you think this might be a sign of a young player finally finding his stride, Sturm is starting his sixth season in the league, and, to date, has not played more than 53 NHL games in a season. In the one season where Sturm played 53, he scored 11 goals. Don’t expect too many more to keep coming from the fourth line.

Meanwhile, the team’s top point-scorers are Erik Karlsson, Mario Ferraro and Evgeny Svechnikov. They’re all tied at three points apiece.

So where are Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture and Timo Meier? Couture has two points this season, while Hertl and Meier are stuck at one apiece. For Hertl and Meier, those points came on the same goal — Hertl scored and Meier assisted. That was all the way back in Prague.

Can they please call up Ryan Merkley already?

This, for the most part, is the Sharks team everyone was expecting to see hit the ice at the start of the season. It’s not going well.

So far, San Jose has been outplayed and out-skilled. Some of this is simply the make-up of the team, but at times, it looks like there’s no heart on the ice. A young player looking to make a name for himself and secure his spot in the league could be the medicine the Sharks need.

Yes, young players need time to develop and I’m not saying it's time to see William Eklund or Thomas Bordeleau in a Sharks sweater just yet. However, a player like Ryan Merkley might add an offensive spark.

Merkley has a high offensive upside and we haven’t seen much of that from the current crop of Sharks defensemen. Without Brent Burns, Karlsson is the only one who seems to drive play consistently. For all his defensive shortcomings, Merkley is still a good playmaker. Allowing him to find his footing in the NHL night in and night out won’t just allow Merkley to take that next step, but it will send a message that all roster spots are truly up for grabs.

It’s time the Sharks learn once and for all what they have in the young defenseman.

Has James Reimer secured the starter job already?

Yes, James Reimer and Kappo Kahkonen are tied up at two losses apiece, however, the stats tell a very different story.

Reimer has a somewhat respectable 2.56 goals against average and a very respectable .924 save percentage. At times, he’s been the rock that’s prevented a blowout — for example, that second period performance against the Carolina Hurricanes in the home opener. Meanwhile, Kahkonen isn’t giving players much confidence in net. In his two games, he’s posted a 4.10 goals against average and a .814 save percentage.

There’s one back-to-back coming up on this road trip, against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday and the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, so there’s going to be some flip-flopping in net. After that, the team returns home for six straight games in San Jose, with at least a day off between each. It’d make sense if that’s when we see Reimer start to take the majority of starts.

Bold Prediction: This might be a cop out, but I’m going with a W. The Rangers know this is a game they can phone in and still win, so the Sharks will come out hard and jump on top of them. Look for San Jose to take out their frustration and anger on an unsuspecting Rangers team and break the goal-scoring dam wide open.