The San Jose Sharks continue their homestand when the Colorado Avalanche visit on Saturday night. The Sharks are coming off a 4-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, and the Avs took care of the LA Kings on Wednesday night. The Sharks played well against the Golden Knights for about 35 minutes before the wheels fell off. Here is what to look for on Saturday night.
Slowing down Rantanen
Last season, Mikko Rantanen owned the Sharks. In three games against San Jose, Rantanen scored four goals and three assists. In 21 career games, Rantanen has 14 goals and 27 points. If the Sharks have any hope of winning this game, they must figure out a way to slow down The Moose.
Without Logan Couture and Mikael Granlund in this game, what does David Quinn do to try and match up with Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon? Expect Tomas Hertl to see the ice every time this line is out and if Mario Ferraro and Kyle Burroughs can do enough. If the Sharks can neutralize the top line, they can have the Thomas Bordeleau line provide some offense.
The Sharks penalty kill vs the Avalanche power play
Last year, the Sharks boasted the eighth-best penalty kill in the league. The Avalanche had the sixth-best power play. While the game should not be close at even strength, this matchup should be one of the best of the night. Newcomer Filip Zadina looked great on the penalty kill against Vegas, but the Avalanche will provide a different set of issues. With Cale Makar running the show, the Sharks must maintain their discipline to keep Makar from picking them apart.
The depth of the Sharks’ penalty kill unit will be tested with Granlund going on IR. Nico Sturm, Luke Kunin, and Zadina will be part of the top two units, but does Quinn go with Anthony Duclair or William Eklund to fill out the penalty kill? Both got opportunities in the preseason, but playing against one of the top power play units in the league is different. Could Hertl be an option? How Quinn juggles his penalty kill forwards will go a long way in determining if the Sharks can slow down an avalanche.
Mackenzie Blackwood’s debut
Mackenzie Blackwood is going to make his Sharks debut. A player who was once considered the future in net of the New Jersey Devils is set to try and reestablish his career in San Jose. Blackwood has struggled with injuries over the past few seasons and is “in the best shape of his life.” With so many questions in the crease between Kaapo Kahkonen and Blackwood, having a good start against a superior team could go a long way in establishing the starter.
The Avalanche did not generate as many high-danger chances as you would expect for one of the top-scoring teams in the NHL last year. Blackwood had a .746 high danger SV% last year, good for 23rd among qualifying goalies (15 starts). Kahkonen was perfect against high-danger saves on Thursday, but the medium-danger saves sunk him. Blackwood finished 62nd in medium danger SV% last year. The Sharks defense must help keep things clear in front of Blackwood and help limit the second chances.
Bold Prediction: Blackwood makes 35 saves, but Sharks lose 4-1