Two of the Western Conference’s most consistently-strong teams of the decade face off Tuesday night in Music City when the San Jose Sharks visit the Nashville Predators. Nashville has had a decent start to the season, while San Jose has opened up with arguably the worst start of any team in the league, dropping all three of its games thus far. Here’s a preview for Tuesday’s game, as well as odds and a prediction.
Sharks Looking Toothless
Last year the Sharks were Western Conference finalists, but they look far from being a playoff team through three games. San Jose has scored just one goal in each of its games, back-to-back losses to the Golden Knights followed by a road loss against the Ducks. This also comes after a preseason where they won just one out of the six exhibition contests. Only Logan Couture, with one goal and one assist, has multiple points this season.
The Sharks are still a team beaming with talent. Couture highlights a forward group that also contains young studs Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl, each of whom has yet to register a point.
The defense is normally one of the Sharks’ strongest areas, highlighted by Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. But this year, they have allowed 12 goals with the latter two defensemen combining for a plus-minus of -12. Goaltenders Martin Jones and Aaron Dell have split time this year, with both of them struggling to stop shots. The two have combined for a .876 save percentage through three games.
San Jose will get a familiar face back in the lineup for Tuesday’s game. Winger Evander Kane finished serving his three-game suspension for abuse of an official and will be suiting up for the Sharks. Kane is a 30-goal scorer who will slide immediately into one of the top two lines and provide instant offense for a team that definitely needs it.
The key for San Jose to win will fall on the performance of either Jones or Dell, but also the rookie defensemen San Jose is forced to use. After the offseason trade of Justin Braun and both Radim Simek and Dalton Prout dealing with injuries, the Sharks are relying on inexperienced defensemen like Mario Ferraro and Trevor Carrick to pick up extra minutes.
They will need to find their footing on the pro level quickly, for the sake of Karlsson and Burns not being run into the ground, and especially against a Nashville team with perhaps the deepest blue line in the sport.
Predators Need Extra-Man Magic
The Predators got busy this offseason, trading defenseman P.K. Subban to the Devils and signing center Matt Duchene to a long-term contract as a free agent. The Duchene signing is one Nashville hopes improves its power play and overall scoring this season.
Last year, the Predators had the league’s worst power-play percentage (12.9 percent) and were middle of the pack in scoring. So far, through two games, Nashville is 1-for-2 on the power play, beating the Wild 5-2 and falling to the Red Wings 5-3.
Duchene has delivered in a big way to start his career in Nashville, with five assists to lead the team in points. Forwards Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson each have two goals, while defenseman Mattias Ekholm has a goal and two assists to start the year.
The Predators are once again a team that can score with any line, evident by the 13 players who already have a point or more. They are, however, missing the presence of Subban. The combination of Dante Fabbro, Yannick Weber, and Dan Hamhuis are all trying to replace what Subban did at both ends, but so far have a combined zero points and plus-minus of -4.
While Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros have each started a game this year, Rinne is expected to start in net. The veteran netminder was solid in his one and only game, recording a .917 save percentage and only allowing two goals.
In order for Nashville to win, they will have to win the possession battle. Duchene helps with that quite a bit, but the Sharks are a fast team that thrives on puck control. The Predators did a good job of this on Saturday against the Red Wings, winning the shots-on-goal battle 42-28, but didn’t get the goaltending to back it up.
With Rinne in net and on home ice, Nashville’s four mobile lines should be able to make life difficult for Jones or Dell.
Odds and Pick
The Predators are a big favorite at home, listed at -175 to hand the Sharks their fourth straight loss. This does factor in the return of Kane, which should give San Jose a boost on offense for the game and going forward.
I think the game will be closer than people think, but I’m going to roll with the Predators. San Jose has some issues with its power play and the back of its blue line that likely won’t get fixed in time for this one. Give me the Predators to win by a score of 3-1.