Who: San Jose Sharks (17-21-3, 37 points, 8th place [last] in the Western Division, last in Western Conference) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (24-11-4, 52 points, 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh viewing area, NBC Sports California
Opponent Track: The Sharks kicked off a five game eastern swing by losing 2-0 to the lowly Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday. Overall SJ is just 2-5-1 since interim coach (and former Penguin defenseman) Bob Boughner took over on December 11th when Peter DeBoer was dismissed after a surprisingly bad start.
Pens path ahead: After this game, the Pens go up to Montreal for a Hockey Night In Canada matchup on Saturday, and then quickly come back at home to meet Florida on Sunday at the weird start of 5 PM.
Season Series: The Pens have points in eight of its last 10 home games against San Jose (6-2-2)
Recent History: The Pens take their trip to California in late February. They play in San Jose on Leap Day (Feb. 29th).
SBN Team Counterpart: Check out Fear the Fin for the SJ perspective.
Tale of the Tape
—Be it the cause or the effect behind almost every coach fired is substandard goaltending, and that was a big part of what doomed DeBoer this season with league-worst goaltending so far. Jones has really gone off a cliff with a .896 save% last year and a .893% so far this year. Those numbers were .918%, .912% and .915% in the prior three seasons (2015-18) for his early stint with San Jose.
—One huge and surprising outlier is the SJ penalty kill, best in the league. Didn’t see that one coming
Player Stats at a Glance
—It’s just been “one of those years”. Probably a bit less than they expected from just about every single player on the roster in the first half of the season.
—They can’t really blame injuries, 14 skaters have played at least 37 of the 41 games and mostly all their important players have been healthy so far this season.
—40-year old Joe Thornton (the current active leading all-time scorer in the NHL with 1,493 points) has never been much of a goal scorer but just one in 41 games is obviously very not good. He did score that goal last week against LA and does have three points in the last three games, so maybe he’s finding his wind?
—But still, will the first overall pick from the 1997 draft in Thornton (conducted in Pittsburgh) be playing his final game in the ‘Burgh? Ditto for Patrick Marleau the No. 2 pick in the ‘97 draft. Those two are, if I’m not mistaken, the last two active NHL players from that draft.
—San Jose claimed Stefan Noesen on waivers from Pittsburgh. Interestingly, Noesen scored a goal in his first game with SJ — just as he scored in his first game with the Pens! Noesen then went five scoreless games with Pittsburgh, and fittingly enough he’s had four straight scoreless games with SJ since recording his goal.
Possible Lines (based on last game)
Tomas Hertl - Logan Couture - Kevin Labanc
Evander Kane - Barclay Goodrow - Timo Meier
Marcus Sorensen - Joe Thornton - Patrick Marleau
Melker Karlsson - Joel Kellman - Stefan Noesen
Brenden Dillon / Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic / Erik Karlsson
Radim Simek / Mario Ferraro
Expected Scratches: Antti Suomela, Tim Heed, Joachim Blichfeld
Injured Reserve: Dalton Prout (upper body)
—Martin Jones has started the last two games and only given up one goal in each of them (a 6-1 win vs Philly, lol, and a 2-0 loss to DET that was sealed with an empty netter for DET). Jones’ season stats are not great, but he’s been in very good form in the immediate past with 47 saves on 49 shots in the last two games since the Christmas break.
New defensive strategies with a new coach
New coach, morphing new role for Brent Burns and the rest of the defense as Fear the Fin recently wrote with a really good video breakdown if you want to learn more about strategy:
[General Manager] Doug Wilson noted, after firing Peter DeBoer: “We gave up the most quality scoring chances in our own slot area of any team in the league.”
Boughner is trying to improve on that by keeping more manpower “in the house.”
Under DeBoer, it wasn’t uncommon to see a San Jose defenseman chase an attacking forward from below the goal line to the point.
Boughner added, “The biggest difference is, we’re not getting too spread out in the d-zone. We’re trying to have five tight, five tight in the quadrant.”
This is fine in theory, but in practice, it appears the Sharks are still struggling to contain the slot defensively. Per Natural Stat Trick, they’re allowing 12.03 High-danger Corsi Against Per 60 Minutes at 5-on-5 under Boughner. That’s 26th in the NHL.
They were 27th in the league, surrendering 11.73 High-danger Corsi Against Per 60 Minutes. Granted, Natural Stat Trick’s figures may not align with the team’s internal tracking; however, they should provide a reasonable-enough proxy.
Boughner believes there’s been incremental improvement though: “I think we’re checking off the intersect a little more, the scoring hole, the honey hole, I like to call it.”
It remains to be seen in time if Boughner can implement his vision to limit chances as the games go on.
Oh, and to make matters worse for this bad year, Ottawa holds SJ’s first round pick in 2020 courtesy of the September 2018 Karlsson trade. San Jose couldn’t trade the 2019 pick because they had already traded it for Evander Kane. SJ’s really gone in on adding NHL ready talent, but they now find themselves highly unlikely to make the 2020 playoffs, culminating in a sum of all fears type of situation to not be very good AND not have the high pick as consolation for a bad season.
And now for the Pens..
Potential Lines (based on yesterday’s practice)
Alex Galchenyuk - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Dominik Simon- Jared McCann -Patric Hornqvist
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev
Dominik Kahun - Joseph Blandisi - Sam Lafferty
Jack Johnson/ Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Juuso Riikola / Chad Ruhwedel
Expected scratches: Justin Schultz (lower body injury), Kevin Czuczman (healthy), , Jake Guentzel (sigh, shoulder)
Injured Reserve: Sidney Crosby (core muscle surgery), Nick Bjugstad (core muscle surgery), Brian Dumoulin (ankle surgery)
—Following the devastating loss of Guentzel, the NHL schedule will still keep moving on. The biggest beneficiary in the short-term is Galchenyuk who slots into the prime role with Malkin-Rust of the best line. Galchenyuk does has 2G+1A in the last three games, better than the previous nine early December games where he only registered one single assist. This could well be his final opportunity with the Pens to show something before he could be shuffled out.
—The other interesting wrinkle is the newly formed second line. The Pens are sticking with Simon+Hornqvist as the wingers, and they well may represent the third line wingers eventually one day. As a result though, Kahun gets kicked down to an energy line with Blandisi and Lafferty. Given recent results, it’s a bit surprising Kahun didn’t get a spot on the Malkin line with Galchenyuk with the guys he scored with recently in Blandisi+Lafferty, but we’ll see.
—There’s no announcement on the Pens’ goalie, but given how Tristan Jarry has been playing it would have to be surprisingly if the British Columbia native doesn’t get the start tonight.