Sharks look to shake off the blues and get back to winning ways against the Capitals
|30-17-6, 66 points||28-22-5, 61 points|
|3rd in Western Conference ||9th in Eastern Conference|
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In true dichotomous fashion the San Jose Sharks will go up against a middling defensive team after falling 3-0 in a hard-fought battle against one of the better defensive teams in the league.
And while the Washington Capitals don't exactly provide the litmus test that St. Louis Blues offered them last night, getting a chance to pick up two points after another dissapointing loss to St. Louis is precisely what the doctor ordered for this club as they embark on a 9 game road trip.
There's been a lot of frustration with the teams play of late-- 3 losses in 4 games tends to do that to a fanbase-- and the way in which San Jose has gone about losing those games is mildly concerning at this point in the season. Losses to Phoenix and Calgary were plagued with ill-advised defensive errors that cost them at crucial moments in the game, a disastrous twenty five minutes against Chicago was all but saved when Jamie McGinn managed to turn the tides with a fight against Brian Bickell, and last night against St. Louis the Blues managed to outwork and outgrind San Jose during a slobberknocker of a game.
It hasn't been disastrous but it hasn't been pretty, which truly makes all the difference at this stage of the year when standings points are on the line.
And while San Jose continues to possess good underlying metrics and by all accounts is on their way towards competing for a Stanley Cup in the spring, the pieces in place don't seem like quite enough at this point to justify pulling out the shades as we cruise towards another Western Conference Finals appearance with the top rolled down in the California sun.
With the NHL Trade Deadline approaching in two weeks, and prices for rentals increasing in size, San Jose's ability to find an upgrade for their forward group is the most pressing issue for Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson as he attempts to round out his roster into fine form. The return of Martin Havlat from injury in mid-March is obviously something that will help the Sharks in this regard, but a disappointing season to date for the oft-injured winger provides no guarantees as to what his future production will bring. There's been mentions of Paul Gaustad earlier this season, Ray Whitney last week, and now Mike Knuble of the Capitals as a potential candidate to join the team later this month.
Here's Kevin Kurz with more:
Knuble, who has just three goals this season, is a guy that needs to play with top players in order to be effective. He blossomed with Thornton and Murray in Boston, continued to produce with players like Peter Forsberg and Simon Gagne in Philadelphia, and as recently as last season scored 24 goals with Washington. He’s due to become an unrestricted free agent, and there’s a good chance he retires when it’s through. He would cost you less than, say, Ray Whitney, another player reportedly on San Jose's radar.
He’s also one of the most professional and well-liked players in the game today. Having not won a Stanley Cup since he played a limited role with the Red Wings in 1998, he’d be as driven as anyone when the playoffs came around.
Knuble has been a healthy scratch in the last two games for the Capitals and, has Kurz mentions above, has struggled mightily this season with a measly 3 goals and 8 assists. He's not exactly a guy that jumps out at you as a world beater, but his ability to find the back of the net is well-evidenced by the fact that he had put up an impressive eight 20 goal seasons in a row heading into this year.
At the age of 39 there's no telling if those historical numbers mean much-- human beings not named Nicklas Lidstrom* usually experience a severe drop off in production once they get past the age of 35-- but it is something to hold on to especially since the price for acquiring Knuble would be so darn cheap at around the 2nd to 3rd round pick range.
*To be fair though, Lidstrom is probably a cyborg.
Where the trepidation comes into play is just how poor Knuble has played this season. In years past his underlying metrics have been solid, finishing around the middle of the pack in comparison to his teammates and jiving with what you would expect of a swing winger (swinger?) who provides value to a team on either the first, second, or third line. But this season those numbers have taken quite the tumble, with Knuble finishing dead last on the team in CORSI despite facing relatively low quality of competition.
These numbers do have context however, as all things do, and the fact remains that Knuble has been thrown to the wolves by a Washington coaching that loads him up on defensive zone draws. The percentages have bit him in the ass as well, with some gnarly looking PDO numbers and a ridiculously low shooting percentage managing to hurt him far more than he has deserved.
All in all however, the fact remains that Knuble is probably in the twilight of his career and should be expected on a third line role if he was acquired by San Jose. That role depends entirely on what the organization believes Havlat will be able to give once he returns, a decision that unfortunately can't be made with game action as Havlat's return will come after the scorching deadline sun has set.
All in all it's going to be an interesting few weeks, especially with the Sharks on the road leading up to the deadline. Although it's safe to assume Wilson has essentially set his mind to what his team needs, their performance on this road trip could tilt the tables and help him determine just what type of splash he wants to make.
Until then we can dream of our Hemsky's, Gaustad's, and Ruutu's confident in the knowledge that Wilson, ever the diligent analyst, usually comes up with something no soul in the media ever saw coming.
Prediction: Sharks win 4-2. Goals by Pavelski, McGinn, Braun, and Clowe.