Off The Draw: San Jose Sharks on a mission; tonight's must-see games
What you missed last night:
• While goonery slowly fades from the NHL, Trevor Gillies of the AHL's Adirondack Flames landed himself a 12-game suspension for a thoroughly ugly incident.
What to watch tonight:
Both teams are coming off of shutout wins in their last games—4–0 for Washington over the Bruins, 3–0 for San Jose over the Jets—but the Sharks are also coming to D.C. with something to prove. Even though they blanked Winnipeg in their home opener on Saturday, they looked a lot more like the team that melted down last spring against the Kings than the one that spoiled L.A.'s banner raising party last Wednesday night.
“People who didn't see the game, they're going to say, Boy, the Sharks are off to a pretty good start,” coach Todd McLellan said. “But that was not a well-played game on our behalf by any means.
“I thought our power play absolutely sucked the life out of our team,” he said of the unit that generated all of six shots while going 0 for 8. “That's probably as weak as it's been in a long, long time.”
He's not kidding. San Jose was sloppy with the puck and brutal on its zone entries. Rookie Mirco Mueller in particular struggled with the QB responsibilities. He's a talented kid, but running the power play for a playoff contending team might be too much for a 19-year-old defensemen only two games into his NHL career. The Sharks might end up missing the departed Dan Boyle more over the next four-to-six weeks than the Rangers will. (Boyle broke his hand last Thursday in his New York debut.)
The Capitals look to have a massive advantage in the matchup between the team's fourth lines. With wingers Raffi Torres and James Sheppard rehabbing knee injuries, San Jose has pieced one together with center Andrew Dejardins skating between Mike Brown and Adam Burish. Washington, meanwhile, will send out a unit anchored by rookie magician Evgeny Kuznetsov. He could be the difference tonight.
Doesn't sound like we'll get the long-awaited debut of Tampa Bay winger Jonathan Drouin—the latest report has the Calder Trophy favorite arriving on Saturday night in Vancouver—but this game does boast two of the NHL's top four offenses.
No surprise that the Bolts are lingering near the lead (they finished ninth last season), but New Jersey? Put it this way: It's like the Hockey Gods have decided to make up for all the nicked posts and bad breaks that the Devils had last season in one fell swoop. The bounces have all gone New Jersey's way through its first two wins, and that kind of luck is going to be tough to sustain. Give the Devils their due, though. Their revamped corps of forwards has found quick chemistry and is doing a good job getting pucks and bodies to the net. Hard work like that has put them in position to be rewarded.
Steven Stamkos laid the hammer down on the Canadiens on Monday night, scoring three times to lead the Lightning to a 7–1 win. His hatty was nice, but it was the 12 shots that he fired at Carey Price and Dustin Tokarski that showed how dialed in Stamkos was for that one. Let's see what his emotions are like tonight.
New-look Nashville is firing on (almost) every cylinder under first-year coach Peter Laviolette, getting terrific goaltending from Pekka Rinne and surprising contributions from the fourth line to lead its offensive charge. What the Predators are not getting yet is results from the top line of Mike Ribeiro, James Neal and Gabriel Bourque.
The trio has been held without a point through the team's 2–0 start, and while they've taken 20 shots, they're not doing enough to keep opposing defenses back on their heels. The smart move tonight would bump rookie Filip Forsberg (three assists) up from the second line to replace Bourque on the wing, giving the top line a little more flash and puck possession time—something it desperately needs after having spent most of the 4–1 win over the Stars on Saturday night chasing the puck.
Calgary's wunderkind, Johnny Gaudreau, is still looking for his first goal of the season, but more troubling is the fact that his ice time has dropped nearly four minutes per game since the opener. Given how starved this team is for skill—remember, the Flames dressed enforcers Brian McGrattan and Brandon Bollig on Saturday against the Blues—there has to be more of an opportunity for the rookie to show what he has, especially on the power play. Nothing against Mason Raymond and Curtis Glencross, but they're getting the minutes on the first unit that need to be going to Gaudreau. Calgary kept the kid on the roster. Time to let him off the leash.
The rest of the schedule: Islanders at Rangers (7 p.m. EDT, MSG, MSG Plus 2); Ducks at Flyers (7 p.m. EDT, PRIME, CSN-PH); Stars at Blue Jackets (7 p.m. ET; FS-SW, FS-O); Sabres at Hurricanes (7:30 p.m. EDT, NBCSN); Avalanche at Maple Leafs (7:30 p.m. EDT, TVA, ALT, TSN4); Oilers at Kings (10:30 p.m. ET, SN360, FS-W)
• While a few female Olympians have recently made token appearances at NHL training camps, goaltender Shannon Szabados is prepping for her first full season in a men's pro league.
• "I hate to say this but it feels like we're seeing the end of a franchise,'' said a Panthers fan after surveying the pitiful crowd that turned up for last night's 1–0 loss to the Senators.