The San Jose Sharks hit the mid-point of their nine-game road trip in the worst possible place at the worst possible time.
The Detroit Red Wings are on a record-setting run, with 22 straight regular season wins at home. While the Sharks have owned the Wings over the past two seasons—13 wins in 18 contests, including the playoffs—in the previous 18 years they had just five wins in Detroit.
Now they have to win this one in what is for those calling the Pacific Coast home a morning game. The game is their third scheduled to start in a 65-hour period. Friday marked the third Sharks loss on this trip, and they are just 6-7-2 in their last 15 games.
During that stretch, the Sharks almost have guaranteed themselves a No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. In all likelihood, they only need to play over .500 the rest of the way to win the division but would likely have to play .750 hockey to move up to a second seed.
Not to be dramatic, but catching the Wings almost requires a win in this contest. While having Jimmy Howard still out with a broken finger might help, Joey MacDonald is 5-1-1 with a .933 save percentage and 1.61 goals against average.
Both teams play a similar system, but Detroit has been doing it longer and seems to be better at it. They rank top-four in both goals scored and allowed per game while San Jose is only top-nine in both. They are better on the penalty kill and at even strength.
The Sharks have won these battles not just because they are bigger and younger, but by doing the little things well. They rank higher in faceoffs, shots on goal, shot differential (Detroit has the edge in shots allowed) and power play.
They are also one of the most underrated shot-blocking teams in the league. Two years removed from a goalie who did not like the tactic because it made his job harder, they now only lose the shot-blocking battle because the other team attempts fewer—their ratio to shots on goal or attempts is almost always better.
But can they have the energy needed to block shots and exert themselves physically considering their circumstances?