San Jose Sharks: Why Thomas Greiss Should Start Against Chicago

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San Jose Sharks: Why Thomas Greiss Should Start Against Chicago
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By virtue of the numerous weird quirks in the NHL schedule, the San Jose Sharks will play their fourth and final regular season game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday.

Numerous other quirks include the Sharks having already concluded their season series with a division rival in the Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose plays just one inter-divisional game in their final six games on the schedule.

In particular, Thursday's quirk should represent the final time the Sharks and Blackhawks will match up against one another unless they meet in the Western Conference Finals.

While it is certainly possible they meet before the conference finals, the chances that happens are highly unlikely. Having the Sharks and Blackhawks finish one-two in the conference is as safe a bet as each quarterback in the upcoming Super Bowl throwing for a touchdown in the big game.

Therefore, with both teams set as a two seed at worst, this week's head-to-head showdown of the top two teams in the conference doesn't mean much for either team concerning the final outcome.

The two points that each team will say is "huge, important, necessary, vital" actually isn't the most important aspect of the game considering both teams will finish no worse than second in the standings.

But for the Sharks, the way this game is played will be pivotal come a potential Western Conference final matchup against Chicago.

Two of the three games these two have played against one another saw Chicago absolutely dominate, and the one game they didn't, they still won in a dramatic overtime thriller.

While San Jose won the most recent contest by a 3-2 final back on Dec. 22, San Jose's No. 1 netminder, Evgeni Nabokov, stood on his head and stole the game for his team.

Nabokov stopped 45 out of 47 shots and kept a dynamic Blackhawk power-play off the scoreboard despite facing seven Chicago power-plays.

It was easily Nabokov's best game of the season. But the whole world knows Nabokov has the talent to steal any one regular season game if his team needs it.

However, the prior meeting between the teams saw Nabokov get pulled after two periods on his home rink. Not all of the goals were his fault, most of them weren't, but he failed to come up with a big save when his team needed it from him.

The Sharks went down by a 7-0 score and eventually lost 7-2. Chicago, like they did in the game Nabokov stole, simply outworked San Jose in every single facet of the game.

Goaltending aside, the Sharks deserved to lose both these games by a 7-2 final outcome. That is how poorly San Jose played.

Fortunately, they have one more chance to measure up. In order to do that, they should start their backup netminder Thomas Greiss.

There are numerous different reasons why this move makes sense for the Sharks.

First off, Nabokov is on pace to play 71 games this season, and add in a few games during the Olympics and that number could rise to over 75.

Throughout his 10-year career, Nabokov has played his best playoff hockey in the two seasons where he has started the least amount of regular season games. His best two save percentage marks in the playoffs have come in 2003-04 (.935 mark) when he started just 58 regular season games and in 2006-07 (.920 mark) when he started just 49 games.

His playoff save percentages when he starts 60 or more regular season games? .903, .904, .907, .890.

Does correlation always mean causation? No, but in Nabokov's case, the numbers are hard to ignore when you factor in how much work goaltenders put into each and every game they play.

With a top-two seed all but wrapped up with a bow on top, the Sharks would be wise to limit Nabokov's playing time and give more playing time to the extremely inexperienced Thomas Greiss.

The projected starting netminder for Team Germany has appeared in just 10 games for San Jose, including seven starts and posted respectable numbers including a .915 save percentage and a 2.57 goals against average.

Unfortunately, for his career, Greiss has appeared in just 13 total games and made nine total starts.

Without question, this is not enough NHL experience to make the Sharks or their fans feel comfortable enough to have Greiss take over the starting role if Nabokov were to get injured or hit the free agent market.

What San Jose needs is to see how Greiss can handle himself in at least one-third of the remaining 29 games.

That means Greiss should start a minimum of 10 games for the Sharks down the stretch. And what better way to start the final 29 games than to give the kid a shot against arguably the best team in the NHL?

Starting Nabokov in this game doesn't prove anything. Another steal by Nabokov might just cause the Sharks to get complacent with the two points. A hard fought loss with Nabokov giving another solid performance would probably mean the Sharks just shrug it off like the game was no big deal.

Although, if they start Greiss, then regardless of the outcome San Jose will have learned a lot about themselves.

If they win with Greiss in the nets, it will give the team confidence that they can beat the best of the best with their backup netminder.

If they play poorly at both ends of the ice and Greiss is unable to make up for their mistakes, then the players and more importantly head coach Todd McLellan and GM Doug Wilson will realize that their team has much to improve on before a potential re-match with Chicago.

Meanwhile, San Jose gets Nabokov his much needed rest and are more likely to see Nabokov at the top of his game when it matters most, not during mid-January.

As a die-hard follower of the Sharks, I hope they take my advice and start Greiss on Thursday. No matter the outcome, the Sharks will learn a lot about their team which they otherwise wouldn't have.

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