Sharks at Senators Preview: Will San Jose spoil Tkachuk’s debut?

After a scary contract hold-out between Brady Tkachuk and the Ottawa Senators, the forward will make his season debut against the Sharks tonight.

The San Jose Sharks will continue their Canadian road trip after manhandling the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, and travel to Ottawa to take on the Senators for the first time since March 7, 2020, in which San Jose fell in overtime with a tight 2-1 final score.

A lot has changed since then. The Senators’ goaltender Craig Anderson is now with the Buffalo Sabres, and the Sharks’ goaltender, Aaron Dell, is with the Rochester Americans in the AHL. The Sharks had names like Brandon Davidson, Stefan Noesen and Tim Heed on the team the last time they visited Canadian Tire Centre.

Now, everything is different. Two teams that were rebuilding at the time are now trying to find a new identity and start working toward the postseason again — even after being slept on by many NHL fans for the last two years.

The Sharks are 2-0-0 on the season, and really haven’t shown many flaws in their game. The offense has looked consistent and resilient, the defense has been reliable, and goaltender Adin Hill, although shaky in the season opener, bounced back with a shutout on Tuesday night. It won’t be Hill in net against Ottawa, the first night of a back-to-back; James Reimer will make his season debut and return in a Sharks jersey. Hill will get the tougher assignment in Toronto on Friday.

Courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, here is how the Sharks’ performed against the Canadiens in all situations on Tuesday night:

As you can see, the Sharks fully out-played the Canadiens, and specifically in expected goals for (xGF), with 2.28 to Montreal’s 1.39.

Can the Sharks contain Brady Tkachuk?

When you think of offensive threats, Brady Tkachuk isn’t really a name to come to mind, but that’s because he is sneakily good at what he does. He’s an elite net-front presence and aggravator, and among one of the top power-forwards in the league. He knows how to get his team going with momentum and can be a real pain for goaltenders.

The Sharks are going to need to be sure they don’t let him get in their heads. More importantly, they need help Reimer clear the front of the net, because if there is a shot from the point that gets through and Tkachuk is on the ice, you can guarantee that he will be hacking away at that puck until it’s either frozen or in the back of the net.

How does James Reimer perform?

It’s kind of hard to predict how Reimer will do, as it’ll be his first game of the season. Admittedly, he struggled last season in Carolina, sharing the crease with rookie stand-out Alex Nedeljkovic for the majority of the season. With a whole new system playing in front of him, along with the fact that goaltenders are almost impossible to predict from a year-to-year basis, most Sharks fans will be going in blind in terms of expectations.

The Sharks will just need him to be strong on the rebound area. The Senators are a gritty team, but they aren’t full of offensive weapons from the top of the circle or the point. They amass their production from crashing the net, so Reimer can not give up too many second-chance opportunities.

Can Erik Karlsson face the music against his former team?

Erik Karlsson has had a great two games to start the season, but can that continue as the Swedish defenseman takes on the team he formerly captained to the Eastern Conference Final just a handful of seasons back?

He’ll definitely have some motivation, to say the least. Senators forward Josh Norris, who was a piece sent to Ottawa in the Karlsson trade, said this to the media on Wednesday: “[The Sharks] really went for it [with Karlsson] and it didn’t work out for them. It happens sometimes, but I’m really happy here and we’ve got a really good thing going.”

Hearing someone say “it didn’t work out” in regards to you would light a spark under just about any athlete, especially one as competitive as Karlsson, so be on the lookout for him whenever he steps on the ice tonight.

Bold Prediction: The Sharks keep the ball rolling and take down the Senators, with Karlsson scoring the game-winning goal. Storybook ending.