The San Jose Sharks
The Sharks are in good position in an up-and-down Pacific Division, neck-and-neck with the Calgary Flames in a race to get the top seed in the division and not have to play the Vegas Golden Knights—who seem locked in to third—in the first round. The Sharks were eliminated by the Knights in six last year, so if they’re not looking for revenge they’re probably motivated to avoid a repeat.
Erik Karlsson will miss tonight’s game again (if you hear about a Karlsson it will be bottom-six forward Melker Karlsson), while Evander Kane, who has been out of the lineup for the last two weeks, is expected to return tonight. The team lost to the Panthers on Thursday night, ending a six-game winning streak.
Brent Burns is the Sharks’ leading scorer, with 73 points (13G/60A) so far. Tomáš Hertl is both the team’s second-leading scorer and second-leading goalscorer, with 31-32–63, while Joe Pavelski leads the team in goals with 37 and is tied with Logan Couture at 62 points.
The Sharks have had great offense and defense—though they’ve fallen a little back to earth with Erik Karlsson out—with a good power play and an adequate penalty kill. They push back well when down by a goal or two, and they keep up the pressure when they’re up by a goal (a tip of the hat to HockeyViz here).
About the only thing keeping them from being unstoppable has been their goaltending: Martin Jones has struggled, stopping fewer than nine out of every ten shots he’s faced this season for a sv% of .899, and backup Aaron Dell has been even worse, with a sv% of .889. With average goaltending the Sharks would be a very serious threat for the Cup; as it is, they’re still a definite contender.
The Preds played their best game in a while on Thursday. It wasn’t perfect, but they got out to a good start, responded well when they allowed a goal, won the second period for a change, and had a very good-looking penalty kill. They also got some goaltending. For their effort, they earned a regulation win against the Los Angeles Kings for their first regulation win since they last played the Kings, three weeks ago.
Tonight is going to be tough—the Sharks are a good team, they’re doing well with the last change this year, and the Preds have tended to struggle in the SAP Center. Both previous Preds-Sharks meetups this season have been 5-4 Sharks victories. In both, the Preds had a lead early in the third and the Sharks scored the gamewinner with under ten minutes left in regulation. If the Preds get a lead tonight, they need to put their feet on the gas and not let up for a moment.
Either Pekka Rinne or Juuse Saros could get the start tonight. Rinne did very well in his start against the Kings, and Laviolette is not the kind of head coach who likes to rest his starting goalie, but Saros should continue to get starts over the final stretch of the season. I also don’t know whether recent healthy scratch Kyle Turris will draw back into the lineup, or whether part of the reason that he sat last game was that he’d rushed back from injury.
Reasons to Watch
- Viktor Arvidsson is at 29 goals on the season
- The game is extremely unlikely to be boring
Sights & Sounds
The game starts at 9:30 PM Central (at least it’s the weekend) and will air on FS-TN, or you can listen to the radio call on 102.5 The Game.