Maple Leafs at Sharks Preview: Managing Matthews

The Sharks look to close their homestand out with a win before preparing for a five-game road trip.

The San Jose Sharks have the opportunity to sweep a season series against the Toronto Maple Leafs for the first time since the 2016-17 campaign, as they host the storied franchise tonight at the SAP Center.

Life has been interesting for the Maple Leafs since the last meeting with the Sharks back on Oct. 22, over a month ago. At the time they were 2-1-1, but since then they have gone 12-4-0 and have only lost two games in the month of November. They’re arguably the hottest team in the league at the moment.

This game is the second of the Maple Leafs’ three-game road trip to California as the team is coming off of a dominating 6-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings, led by a three-point effort from defenseman Rasmus Sandin.

Captain John Tavares has fallen under the radar among NHL fans over the last few seasons, but make no mistake, he has been elite this season. He leads the Maple Leafs in both goals and points, with 18 points (9 goals, 9 assists) through 20 games.

Another player to look out for is the usual elite goal-scoring center, Auston Matthews. The Bay Area-born forward started the season off slowly, coming back from a wrist injury, but Matthews has still been producing at a near point-per-game level, with 8 goals and 17 points through 18 games.

Shockingly enough, the narrative for the Maple Leafs this season isn’t their elite offense. For once, it’s the team’s elite blue line and goaltending that has gotten the job for them. They’ve averaged just 2.71 goals per game, tying for 22nd in the NHL, but allowed the third-least amount of goals per game with 2.24, and just the seventh-least amount of shots per game with 29.8.

This has mainly been led by Jack Campbell, whose league-leading .943 save percentage (SV%) and 12.81 goals saved above expectation (GSAx) have him at the top of many Vezina power rankings. Luckily for the Sharks, they won’t have to face him — it’ll be rookie goaltender Joseph Woll in between the pipes for Toronto. He’s been solid, going 2-0-0 with a .915 SV% through two games played this season. The Sharks may be able to leverage his inexperience to their advantage and break through.

The Sharks are coming off of a 6-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday, thanks to the efforts of Timo Meier and his three-point night. They’re riding a two-game winning streak and will look to make it three with a win tonight.

Does Brent Burns get back on the board?

At the start of the season, Brent Burns was dominating play offensively, and people were questioning if we were seeing him revert back to his Norris-trophy level days. While he’s still been solid, he’s also been held off of the score sheet for the last six games.

Throughout his career, Burns has been very solid offensively against the Leafs, totaling 3 goals and 16 points through 21 games, good for a 0.76 point per game rate, as compared to his 0.61 career rate. If there’s any game that we see him get back on the board, it’s tonight.

Does Nick Bonino start a streak?

Well, the slump has finally ended for Nick Bonino. The veteran forward finally recorded his first goal and point of the season in the team’s 19th game. Now the question begs: does this begin a nice little scoring streak for him?

Bonino has been playing on a line with Andrew Cogliano and Scott Reedy for the last two games. It’s not confirmed that this will be the trio he’s a part of tonight, but if it is, you can expect a fourth-line distribution of minutes for him.

The depth was great against the Senators, so maybe they can carry some of that into tonight’s game as well. If so, it’ll be huge for the team, as their main struggles this season have come from lack of depth scoring.

Can the Sharks contain Matthews?

Looking at Matthews’ career stats against the Sharks doesn’t inspire optimism about the team’s odds in shutting him down. He’s notched 8 goals and 11 points through eight games against San Jose throughout his career.

I already mentioned how good he has done over the course of this season, but he’s done very well throughout his last eight games as well, tallying 3 goals and 9 points. Just last night he added 2 points, including a goal against the Kings, and it looks like he is preparing for some big Californian road trip production.

It’s easier said than done, but to contain Matthews, it’s best to not give him any room, especially around the slot area. His playmaking skills are still elite, but nowhere near his level of shooting, so if he’s forced to make passes for the majority of the night, there’s at least have a chance of containing him.

Bold Prediction: Matthews has a three-point night, but the Sharks still manage to win.