After having their eight-game winning streak snapped Saturday by the rival Dallas Stars, the Pacific Division-leading San Jose Sharks look to bounce back against the Nashville Predators Tuesday at HP Pavilion.
The Predators are a different kind of rival—a non-division foe the Sharks struggle against in the regular season (1-2 this season—all one-goal games, but only San Jose's win went into overtime) but are 8-2 against in the postseason. While this game is taking place a full month before the regular season ends, it does have postseason implications.
Both teams have only 16 games with which to determine their playoff positions in the tight Western Conference. The Sharks are only 1.5 games up on the Dallas Stars for the division title, and the Predators are only a game out of the playoff hunt but have two teams between them and the magic eighth spot.
Fans should not expect much scoring. The Sharks are ranked just 15th in goals per game (2.73), and Nashville is better than just two teams (2.44). Moreover, both teams are great defensively, with San Jose ranking ninth with 2.50 goals against while Nashville ranks third at 2.30 GAA.
Don't expect either team to be helped by power plays either, because these teams are among the five who take the fewest penalties. However, if there are penalties, it will be strength against strength or weakness against weakness--San Jose's power play is ranked third at 22.1 percent, but the Predators are ranked fourth in penalty kill at 85.3 percent; the Predators are better than only two teams on the power play (14.7 percent) but the Sharks are merely 18th in killing them (81.6).
How do you see this game ending?
The Sharks will take the bulk of the shots, as they lead the league with 33.9 per game and give up the sixth fewest at 28.5. Nashville ranks poorly in both categories, taking more shots (28.8) than only five teams while allowing just the 13th fewest (30.2). One reason for this is puck possession; San Jose is second-best in the faceoff circle (53.3 percent) while Nashville is 19th (though at 50.2 percent).
Nashville is on the last game of a four-game trip and has captured three points thus far. The Sharks are playing the fourth game of a six-game homestand after playing 10 of the previous 12 on the road.
Ultimately, the Sharks have been hot, winning 17 of their last 21 games, in large part because of the improved play of Antti Niemi. Backup goaltender Anterro Niittymaki is back in the lineup, but it seems likely that with two days off, Nemo will stay in net.
The Sharks have been without ace defenceman Dan Boyle for four games, and he is still listed as day-to-day. Fellow blueliners Kent Huskins and former Predator and penalty-killing specialist Scott Nichol remain on injured reserve.
One reason the Predators are 6-7-3 since the All-Star break is injuries. Defenceman Francois Bouillon joins four forwards on injured reserve: Steve Sullivan, Cal O'Reilly, Matthew Lombardi and former Shark Marcel Goc.