Flames at Sharks Preview: Be careful playing with fire

Sharks need to turn things around in tough homestand.

The Sharks (8-6-3) are back in San Jose, hoping that home ice advantage really will be an advantage against the Calgary Flames (10-6-1).

For the Sharks, it was a troubling two-game road trip. Martin Jones walked out of Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars with 4 goals against and an .818 save percentage, while Aaron Dell finished Friday’s 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues with 4 goals against and a .871 save percentage. Both goalies were better than their numbers, but not phenomenal enough to win, as we’ve seen goalies on lesser teams do to the Sharks frequently.

As for the Flames, they sit above the Sharks in the Pacific Division standings, holding onto the second spot in this young season. The Flames shutout the basement dwelling Los Angeles Kings last night.

Calgary has been solid in the few week and a half, winning five of their last six games, a few in come-from-behind fashion. On Nov. 2, the Flames scored five straight goals in the third period to rally past the Colorado Avalanche. Two days later, the Flames rallied again, scoring three in the third period to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-3. Calgary lost 3-2 to the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday.

When watching the Flames, you obviously need to keep an eye on Johnny Gaudreau, who leads the team with 19 points. Amazingly, “Johnny Hockey” doesn’t lead the team in goals, that honor goes to another young gun, Elias Lindholm who has 9 goals so far. Defenseman Mark Giordano is the biggest threat on the Flames blueline. He has 14 assists and a pair of goals to his name.

The real question facing the Sharks is who the Flames will start in goal. Presumed starter Mike Smith has not done well this season, with a 5-5-1 record that includes a 3.66 goals against average and a .872 save percentage. Meanwhile, backup David Rittich has shined in goal with a 5-1 record. He was in the crease for last night’s shutout in Los Angeles. Given that this is the second night of back-to-backs for the Flames, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Smith in net for the Flames tonight.

Will the defense bother to show up?

The big question mark for the Sharks tonight is if the team can get back to the team defense it showed in parts of last season. The Sharks are in the top-10 in the league in goals against, which is a pretty good sign team defense isn’t really there. As Logan Couture explained after Friday night’s game, it’s not just the d-men, but the forwards that aren’t putting in the work.

It will be interesting to see if Head Coach Pete DeBoer continues mixing things up on defense. Tim Heed was in the lineup Friday instead of Joakim Ryan. Heed played 13:01 minutes in the game and had just one shot on goal. He had a plus/minus of 0, but he played sheltered minutes. After the game, DeBoer said Heed played well, but the coach did not heap praise on the young d-man. We’ll see if a night in the press box earned Ryan his spot back in the line up.

Will the real Erik Karlsson please step forward?

I’m not really sure when the time to be concerned is, but with 17 games in a Sharks’ uniform, you would think two-time Norris Trophy winning defenseman Erik Karlsson would be better than 0 goals, 7 assists, and a minus-11.

TSN’s Andrew Berkshire said last week that Karlsson isn’t losing his touch, but rather suffering through a bout of bad luck. Berkshire actually looked at the numbers to come to this conclusion. As of Nov. 2, the Sharks only scored on “...4.17% of their shots while [Karlsson]’s on the ice, and getting scored on 15.1% of the shots they give up.” It’s a scary stat, but Berkshire says other numbers tell a different story.

“Karlsson is absolutely crushing it so far in San Jose in the underlying numbers,” writes Berkshire. “Ranking fifth overall among defencemen in shot attempt differential, 16th in shots on goal differential, 41st in high danger chances differential, 23rd in slot pass differential, and 18th in the highest percentage of rebounds recovered in his own zone.”

By Berkshire’s logic, what we really need to do is put Karlsson back with Marc-Edouard Vlasic and find Karlsson a lucky penny instead.

It can’t be Timo Time all the time

As much as I love young Timo Meier and the way he’s creeping up there with the top goal scorers in the league, other Sharks need to step up. How many times in the last few games have you wondered if there’s any other line than the one Meier is on? It seems like we’re calling his name a lot and no one else’s.

This problem shows on the scoreboard. The Sharks have been outscored 8-3 in the last two games. There are way to many talented forwards (and defensemen for that matter) to allow Meier to shoulder the burden of scoring all by his lonesome.

Bold Prediction: Time to wrap this up and toss out my bold prediction for the game. It’s not going to be one that you like. The Sharks will be shocked by how quickly the Flames move the puck and gain entry into San Jose’s zone. It will be much like that wretched Carolina Hurricanes game, where at times the Sharks seemed outmatched by a much faster team. It’s going to suck.

The silver lining to all this. Tomas Hertl returns to the lineup. With Hertl on his wing, the clock strikes Timo Time twice. Too bad the Sharks fall to the Flames by a score of 4-3.