Devils at Sharks Preview: Desperate meets desperate

Two teams struggling to find a winning identity.

The San Jose Sharks (15-11-5) finish off their season series with the New Jersey Devils (10-12-6) tonight at SAP Center. It’s a tale of two desperate teams looking for some answers.

For the Sharks, they can’t seem to find an identity. A few good periods of hockey followed by a few bad ones have left the Sharks in 3rd place in the Pacific Division, just six points ahead of the Vancouver Canucks who sit in 6th place this morning. The Sharks split both games on their latest road trip, bringing home two of a possible four points.

Meanwhile, the Devils are having a tough time finishing out games. The team has won just one game in the last eight. New Jersey snapped a six-game losing streak on Thursday night with a 6-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings. But then lost last night in a shootout with the Anaheim Ducks. It was a 6-5 loss that saw a lot of goals and not a lot of defense.

Even if the Devils are having trouble, they have one of the more dangerous players in the league. Reigning Hart Memorial Trophy winner Taylor Hall is the team’s leading scorer with 31 points (8 goals, 23 assists). Kyle Palmieri leads the team with 16 goals. The two wingers play with a young supporting cast that includes 2017 first overall pick Nico Hischier and former Shark Mirco Mueller.

The goaltending situation for the Devils is what’s really up in the air. Cory Schneider, the starter in years past, is having a horrible season. He’s 0-5-1 for the season with a goals against average that’s higher than 4.00 and a save percentage that’s well below .900. Keith Kinkaid is doing a little better for the Devils, putting up a 10-7-5 record with a 2.94 GAA and .906 save percentage. They’re not anywhere near Vezina numbers, but way better than Schneider’s.

Schneider played last night, so expect to see Kinkaid in net tonight.

The last time these two teams played was early in the season on Oct. 14. The Sharks appeared to have the advantage going into the third period with a 2-1 lead. The Devils had other plans. New Jersey scored two unanswered goals and beat the Sharks in regulation 3-2. Kinkaid was in net for that game.

Can the Sharks build off a .500 road trip?

While coming home with just two of four points from the last road trip doesn’t look great, the Sharks actually did some things well during the short trip south. For a majority of the time, the team looked like it was smothering its opponent.

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Corsi in all situations during the 5-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes was 59.22 percent. That same stat was 57.00 percent in the 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars. It means the Sharks had the puck more often than not, they just weren’t executing well.

Costly mistakes have been the difference between a win and a loss in the most recent games. Sheng Peng makes a good point of that in the most recent installment of his Winning Play series.

If the Sharks skip the fancy plays and make the smart ones, they may start looking like a team that will contend for a Cup in the spring.

Can San Jose avoid playing down to the competition?

This has not been an issue in recent months, but it has been in the past and it’s certainly worth mentioning. San Jose needs to remember that the Devils are a tough team that has some offensive fire power. Just because the Devils are currently sitting in 8th place in the Metropolitan Division, does not mean they can’t do some damage.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Kings’ defenseman Drew Doughty, who said after Thursday’s loss, “How are we losing to these teams? It’s not acceptable.”

Doughty had a lot more to say and it’s a pretty interesting read if you have the time. Jewels from the Crown has some quotes.

The point is, even a struggling team like the Devils can bite you if you’re not careful. The Sharks need to be on their guard tonight.

What in the world is going to happen with the lineup tonight?

There was a time when you could be pretty sure who you would see slot into the lineup on any given night. Over the last five to ten games, that’s no longer the truth. It feels like Head Coach Pete DeBoer has basically drawn names out of a hat every game to fill out the fourth line.

The last pick, Lukas Radil, paid off, but I was never really clear on why he slotted into the lineup in the first place. It’s clear that DeBoer is trying to send a message, I’m just not sure what it is and who it’s being sent to.

The goalie picks have also been hit or miss. Aaron Dell won his last game, Martin Jones did not. Not sure if that’s going to have any bearing on tonight’s lineup.

Since the Sharks won the last game, I would hazard a guess that DeBoer is going to stand pat on the lineup tonight barring any injuries. But he’ll stick Jones in net. If we lose, well your guess is as good as mine.

Bold Prediction: Kinkaid was excellent the last time he played the Sharks, I imagine he’ll be excellent again. The only difference is that Jones will be much better than he was the last time they played the Devils. Sharks win, 5-2.

Thoughts? Criticisms? Concerns? Drop them below. We’ll see you at game time!