The San Jose Sharks welcome the New Jersey Devils to the SAP Center tonight. Although the Devils lost their first seven games of the season, they have won five of six, including wins over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, and Anaheim Ducks. A hot streak, Martin Brodeur, and Jaromir Jagr would seem daunting to most teams, however it shouldn’t bother the Sharks based on their last game.
On Thursday the Sharks had their way with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who came into the contest as one of the top teams in the East. With Canadian GM Steve Yzerman in the house, several Sharks players showed why they deserve a spot on the Olympic team. The most impressive play came from the Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, and Tommy Wingels line, which was responsible for three goals and eight points. One could expect Couture or Marleau to put up multiple goals, but who would have guessed that Wingels would have two goals? The goals he scored were not handed to him either. He found soft spots on the ice and beat Anders Lindback with two wicked wrist shots. For Wingels it was a potential turning point in his season and career. Todd McLellan gave him a chance to play with two of the best forwards on the team, and he delivered by not only elevating his play, but also his line mate’s.
Wingel’s spot along side Marleau and Couture, would not have happened without the return of a certain ex-bearded man—Brent Burns. A healthy and clean cut Burns returned to the top line with Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl, and wasted little time making an impact. He scored with his skate to put the game out of reach, but even before that his presence was felt. All game, his speed and physicality helped create space for Hertl, and his pressure in the offensive zone helped lead to his goal. As great as the Marleau, Couture, and Wingels line played, the Hertl, Thornton, and Burns line can be just as dominant. In fact, if they stay healthy, the Sharks may have the most talented top six forwards in hockey.
As strong as the offense played, their defensive effort should not be overlooked. The Sharks did give up 37 shots on goal, and did not have to face Steven Stamkos, but not many of the Lightning’s shots were dangerous. The defense kept the Lightning to the perimeter and minimized breakaways and second chance scoring attempts. Another impressive aspect of the Sharks’ game was their mindset in the third period. It’s no surprise that the Sharks came out strong to start the game, but it was a great sign that they played an aggressive third period as well. They didn’t give the Lightning a chance to get back into the game, by playing the third period as if the game were still close. As a result, it was 5-0 before the Lightning even started generating solid scoring chances.
As well as the Devils have played lately, it’s important to remember that they have serious deficiencies, on both offense and defense. They do not score many goals, and most of their defensive work is done by either Cory Schneider or Brodeur. Another interesting storyline to keep an eye on is the first NHL matchup between Hertl and his childhood idol, Jagr. Jagr has 20 more years of experience than Hertl, but if Hertl can use his speed and skating ability, he should have the upper hand tonight. Likewise, if the Sharks push the pace and use their speed to their advantage, they should be able to put pressure on the Devils defense and come away with a victory.