Sharks vs. Avalanche: Another team with talented young forwards visits the Tank

In their final game prior to the league's three-day Christmas break, the Sharks host another Central Division club featuring young standouts up front.

For the second game in a row, and their final contest prior to the NHL's Christmas break, the Sharks will face a Central Division team that boasts a speedy, youthful forward corps backed up by a somewhat suspect blueline. Despite the likes of Andre Benoit and Cory Sarich feasting on a steady diet of top-four minutes, new head coach Patrick Roy has kept the Colorado Avalanche in playoff contention through nearly half of the season. A lot of that owes to excellent play from their goaltending tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who together have combined to stop 92.6% of the shots Colorado has faced this year, the fourth-best mark in the league.

While that number probably won't stay quite so high, the Avs' stable of young forwards is legitimately the envy of the league. From stickhandling virtuoso Matt Duchene to No. 1 overall pick Nathan MacKinnon to possession demons Ryan O'Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado is stocked with weapons up front and it'll be interesting to see who Todd McLellan chooses to match up against that dangerous Duchene line, particularly with the Sharks' forward combinations in flux following Tomas Hertl's injury.

Ultimately, I think it's in San Jose's best interest to split up the Marleau/Thornton/Pavelski line even though they were dominant on Saturday night in negating Dallas' dangerous young trio while producing the game-tying goal in addition to a handful of other chances. Recreating the center depth that made the team successful earlier in the year is key, which means plugging James Sheppard or Tyler Kennedy into Hertl's customary spot alongside Thornton and Burns while keeping the American Express line and Marleau/Couture/Havlat intact. I have no idea if that's what the coaching staff will opt to do but it would seem to give them the best chance to exploit the Avs' third line, which looks a bit bare in the wake of an injury to Alex Tanguay and the trade of Steve Downie to Philadelphia.

Colorado Avalanche


San Jose Sharks
23-10-2, 48 points
22-8-6, 50 points
3rd in Central
3rd in Pacific

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Projected Sharks Lineup

Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Tommy Wingels - Logan Couture - Brent Burns
Matt Nieto - John McCarthy - Marty Havlat
Mike Brown - Andrew Desjardins - Tyler Kennedy

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Jason Demers
Matt Irwin - Dan Boyle
Brad Stuart - Justin Braun

Antti Niemi
Alex Stalock

Projected Avalanche Lineup

Ryan O'Reilly - Matt Duchene - Nathan MacKinnon
Gabriel Landeskog - Paul Stastny - P.A. Parenteau
Jamie McGinn - John Mitchell - Maxime Talbot
Patrick Bordeleau - Marc-Andre Cliche - Cody McLeod

Jan Hejda - Erik Johnson
Andre Benoit - Cory Sarich
Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie

Semyon Varlamov
Jean-Sebastien Giguere