RECORDS: Hawks 33-33-10 Sharks 43-24-9
PUCK DROP: 9:30pm
TV: NBCSN Chicago
ALSO FAKING THEIR VOICE LIKE ELIZABETH HOLMES: Fear The Fin
If you were to ask both fanbases, both would tell you their team is a mess, a disaster, an embarrassment. One has lost six in a row, and one has lost four of its last five. Neither is living up to the expectations the front offices themselves set for their respective team. But really, only one of these teams is a true mess.
The Sharks are the ones who have lost six in a row. They’ve lost touch with the Flames at the top of the division, and the Bay Area faithful are already chewing their nails down to the quick over a first-round matchup with the Knights (who happened to paste the Sharks a few games ago, at least on the scoreboard but as analytics have told us that doesn’t count). Erik Karlsson won’t play until the playoffs, and it’s no guarantee he’ll be 100% then. And rushing him back is what got them in this predicament in the first place. Joe Pavelski has missed the last four games, isn’t a sure bet for tonight, and nagging injuries with 10 days to go to your best forward who happens to be 34 doesn’t set anyone’s nerves at ease.
What’s really causing the angina-kicks in San Jose is that the Sharks can’t get a damn save anywhere. Both Martin Jones and Aaron Dell have gone Little-League-Outfielder-With-The-Glove-On-His-Head in the crease, and the Sharks have the worst SV% at even-strength in the league. Which makes their 95 points and glittering metrics something of a wow, and also exemplifies how good this team really is. If they were getting league average goaltending, they’d probably be able to see where the Lightning are. Most nights, the Sharks demolish teams, and then watch Jones or Dell either make it much harder than it should be or ruin the work altogether. Even in this six-game punt, the Sharks have carried a 56+% share in every game and the same in scoring chances save one.
So yeah, the Sharks bet that Martin Jones would figure it out as the spring invaded seems a shaky one right now (and Jones has the playoff pedigree where you could see the logic). And the Sharks have more riding on these playoffs than just about anyone. Karlsson’s a free agent. Thornton’s a free agent and might retire. Pavelski is a free agent. There’s a heavy now-or-never feel to this.
As for the Hawks…who knows? The season is officially toast now. When you’re tired with the Oilers with six to go, you’re toast. Them’s the rules. So what do you watch for now? I don’t know. There’s nothing that Dylan Strome or Brendan Perlini or the like are going to do in the last six games that’s going to make you feel any differently about them come next year. You already know what the defense is. Maybe Crawford will get a day off now, or the chance to close out the season strongly.
So I guess the thing to watch is the emotional response. Do the Hawks chuck it and mail in the last six games? Do they still try and play well and be professional about it? It might give you some indication about what the players as a whole think of Coach Cool Youth Pastor. If this team isn’t going all out, then the results for these last games could be ugly/hilarious/high art. And also make for a very curious tone heading into camp next year. Once you chuck it on a coach, it’s nearly impossible to get it back. Recall that the Hawks showed some spikiness at the very end of last year for Q.
There’s no doubt the Sharks would be looking at this as their get-well night. They’ve pulverized the Hawks twice already, and they never looked like they had to get out of second gear to do so. And they probably want to get right, because their next two are Calgary and Vegas, and they at least need to throw down a marker for themselves in those. Otherwise, if they somehow puke this one tonight, they could be looking at eight or nine games biffed in a row, and that’s not how you want to enter the last week and playoffs.
I’m still high on the Sharks, but it’s more out of hope than expectation now. If Pavelski and/or Karlsson are iffy, and the goalies are the goalies, it’s quite a challenge. You would expect the antenna will be up for San Jose tonight. That’s probably very bad news for a questionably interested Hawks team.
Game #77 Preview Suite