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Game Preview: Sharks @ Pens

Welcome back, Shorks!

San Jose Sharks v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Ahh, feels like a long time since Penguins game day. Winners of 8 of their last 11, Pittsburgh looks to keep rolling towards the playoffs with the visit from the San Jose Sharks.

The Good Guys Outlook

Based on lines at yesterday’s practice, expect no changes for the Pens from last week.

Matt Hunwick appears to be recovering nicely from injury but doesn’t seem to be slotted in the lineup yet.

There does look to be a change in goal-

Matt Murray has only started 1 game in calendar 2018 (a 4-0 loss to Carolina back on 1/4). He did play in relief for the Pens 6-5 comeback win against Boston on 1/7. Murray left the team for two short stints dealing with the passing of his father and this will be his first game back since.

The Opposition

SJ enters the game with a good record (26-15-7) putting them in a very tight race in the Western Conference. San Jose is 2nd in the Pacific Division with 59 points, however their state-bros in Anaheim and LA are right behind them with 57 points and both of them are out of the playoffs currently. Very thin margin of error for those three Cali teams plus Calgary (58 points) that could be 4 teams vying for the final 2 playoff spots in the Pacific, with the chance of a wildcard too.

One big loss for SJS is not having Joe Thornton who is out at least weeks with an injured knee. Even at age 38, Thornton is among the best and most important players on the team, he has 13 goals and 23 assists in 47 games this season, tying him for 2nd on he team in points.

If you look at those goal totals and think “wow that looks high for a well-known playmaker like Thornton” you would be correct, he was on a 23 goal pace which would have been his highest personal season goal total since scoring 25 in 2008-09. Thornton hasn’t scored 20+ goals since 2010-11, and unfortunately now he likely won’t this season either.

Lines (via left wing lock)

The Sharks only have six healthy forwards with 10+ goals on the season in the lineup tonight. It seems odd that at 2.92 goals/game so far this season they are exactly the same as the Pens, because it doesn’t look like they have a lot of firepower.

20-year old Timo Meier there on the first line might be the player to watch, he has 11 goals on the season, nine of which have come in the months of December and January.

Brent Burns is having a season statistically similar to Kris Letang; the big caveman has a team-high 41 points (7g+34a) in 48 games but by far a team-low of a -21 plus/minus. The +/- only tells part of the story of course; Burns has a very, very low .901 save % at even strength while on the ice. Goalies have also given up 30 High Danger goals while Burns is on the ice, 2nd most in the league. Could the goalies be making more saves? Could Burns be playing better and allowing fewer high quality chances? Both seem to be yes.

Anyways, the steady play of 24-year old New Jersey native Joakim Ryan (who has only played 39 NHL games in his career and, all this season) and Dylan Demelo has rendered ex-Penguin Paul Martin obsolete. SJ has since deleted Martin from the NHL roster, placing him on waivers earlier in the month. There were no takers so Martin is currently buried in the AHL, where there was hope he could play well and perhaps work out a trade. Interestingly enough, this year is the first time the 36-year old Martin has ever played in the AHL, which you almost never see for a defenseman to A) never need the AHL in the first place as a young player and then B) actually be assigned there and play as a veteran.

Key Matchup

5v5 possession game shows Pens should be good

San Jose is a team on the decline in recent weeks, and missing one of their best players and leaders in Thornton. The Penguins absolutely should take advantage of this, start strong and control the majority of possession events tonight. Anything less would be pretty disappointing, considering that Pittsburgh is about the opposite of the slumping Sharks.

Pittsburgh PP vs. SJ PK

Since Christmas, the Penguins power play is clicking at an almost incomprehensibly good 35.7%, far and away #1 in the league. San Jose’s PK is just 23rd in the league since Christmas at 75.0%.

Sensing a trend?

All signs say the Pens should be the better team at 5v5, and they have a huge advantage in special teams. They’re at home where they have a good record (17-7-1) playing a team with a typical mediocre road record (12-8-4) that is thousands of miles from home and playing at (for them) an odd time on their body clocks.

Anything can happen in terms of bounces, penalty trouble, starting a goalie for only the second time in 4+ weeks but the stars seem to be aligning that this could be a strong night for Pittsburgh. Tough to flat out predict a win in the parity of today’s NHL, but it would be disappointing for the Pens not to have a good outing in this one.