Sharks at Jets Preview: Aim for the season sweep

The Sharks are hoping to leave Canada with a season sweep over the Jets.

The San Jose Sharks will play their second of a five-game road trip, as they travel to Winnipeg to play the Jets for the third time this season.

San Jose is coming off of a big 4-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Tuesday. They were outplayed heavily but managed to get the win, which should help the team build confidence. Now they’ll look to build something else: consistency.

As for the Jets, they also played on Tuesday, falling in a shootout to the St. Louis Blues. It was kind of an opposite type of game to the Sharks’ last, as the Jets heavily outplayed their opponents and fell short.

The Jets are 6-3-3 on the season and currently riding a two-game losing streak. This season, Winnipeg is 0-1-1 in the season series against the Sharks. They lost 4-3 in San Jose’s season opener, and then fell on Halloween “Eve” against a Sharks team that had seven players in COVID Protocol, 2-1 in overtime. They hope to finally have the Sharks’ number and catch their first win in the final game of the season series.

The Jets are an amazing offensive team with many talented forwards. They currently rank 11th in goals per game and sixth in power play percentage leaguewide. Kyle Connor is their leading scorer, with 17 points (9 goals, 8 assists) through 12 games. He possesses such a quick release that makes him so dangerous in the slot area, especially on the special teams.

Another player to watch on the Jets is Andrew Copp. He’s having a sneaky good season, with 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) through 12 games, with most of his production coming at even-strength. Despite his lack of hitting, he still plays the role of a modern-day power-forward for Winnipeg very well due to his ability to quickly stride into the zone and create scoring chances, while also being able to provide a stable net-front presence.

Let’s not forget former Sharks defender, Brenden Dillon. He has tallied 2 assists over 12 games. He’s been pretty average in his first season with the Jets, with a -0.10 goals above replacement level, but he’ll hope to make an impact in against his former team. In the season opener for the Sharks, he laid out former teammate Tomas Hertl at open-ice — let’s see if Hertl returns the favor.

Expect Connor Hellebuyck to get the start in net. The goaltender has started off the season poorly, but slowly is trending toward what we’re used to seeing from him. He’s 3-2-3 on the season with a .904 save percentage (SV%) and 1.18 goals saved above expected (GSAx). The Sharks are going to need to test him with high-quality shots.

James Reimer is confirmed to be starting for the Sharks, as assistant coach John MacLean said it was always the plan to have the two goaltenders share the crease during the Canadian part of the road trip. Reimer has a tough act to follow after the clinic Adin Hill put up on Tuesday (including 2 goaltender assists), but he's given us no reason to doubt his abilities this season thus far, rocking a 3-1-1 record to go with a .946 SV% and 3.60 GSAx.

The Sharks have three leading scorers in Brent Burns, Logan Couture and Timo Meier, who are all tied with 11 points.

Burns leads the Sharks in time on ice, averaging 27:05 minutes. Paired with Mario Ferraro, the two have taken a huge workload with four of the Sharks’ regular defensemen on COVID Protocol. Offensively, Burns has held up his side of the bargain. In just the last game, he set up Alexander Barabanov for a filthy goal with a full-ice pass.

Couture, the Sharks’ captain, has been a consistent offensive producer at even-strength, with just one single point coming on the power play. He’s been noticeably good in every game that he’s played, and is currently producing at a point-per-game pace. Luckily for the team, it doesn’t look like the hand injury he sustained on Tuesday will keep him out of any action.

The most impressive of the three is Meier, who has 11 points through just eight games. He’s been out due to COVID Protocol since Oct. 30, but it looks as though his return is near. It’s won’t be tonight, as border regulations have kept him from crossing into Canada, but he may be back in action on Saturday night.

How will the Barracuda fill-ins perform?

This is a big game for the Barracuda fill-in players, as it’s their last opportunity to make their mark with the NHL club, and a couple of them have really stood out to me.

Nick Merkley for one has been terrific, with 3 points (1 goals, 2 assists) through five games, along with a 0.9 goals above replacement. Personally, he’s done enough to solidify himself a bottom-six role permanently, but we’ll see if the coaching staff thinks the same.

Another person to watch is Jaycob Megna, who had a terrific game against the Flames on Tuesday. He’s been a great defensive presence and provides solid stability on the blue line. Even if he doesn’t get consistent top-six minutes, I think he could serve well as a seventh-defenseman over Santeri Hatakka, who looks like he needs some more time to develop with the Barracuda in the American Hockey League.

Does the Barabanov train continue?

Up to this point in the season, Barabanov has been a welcomed addition to the Sharks’ line up.

Originally a healthy-scratch to start the season, he has since found his way into the top-six, and has picked up right where he left off production-wise, with 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists) through seven games. He’s a good complimentary piece on the wing who has some great offensive instincts, and he’ll hope to continue with the offense tonight.

Will the defense show up?

The Sharks will need the defense to show up tonight after their poor performance in Calgary.

The team got hemmed into their zone hard, and basically every pairing was outplayed, aside from the Sharks’ third pairing of Megna and Merkley. I know that it’s hard for that first-pairing with the heavy minutes that they play, but they need to prevent scoring chances more than they have been doing.