The Sharks and red hot goalie Martin Jones are looking to clinch a playoff berth and end a two-game losing skid with a win over the Dallas Stars.
The San Jose Sharks have been inching closer to a playoff berth, and have yet another opportunity to clinch this afternoon against a Dallas Stars team that sits atop the Western Conference with the Blues at the 97-point mark.
Goaltender Martin Jones has been given the starting nod for this contest. Jones has been fantastic in the month of March with a 1.58 GAA and .942 save percentage, allowing two goals or less in 10 consecutive starts. He will have to be at the top of his game again this afternoon, facing a team who leads the league in goals and has recent wins over the Blackhawks, Lightning and Islanders.
The Stars are still without Tyler Seguin to an achilles injury, but they have fared well in his absence, winning two out of three minus the superstar.
These teams both have a lot to play for down the stretch. The Stars are trying to attain the top spot in the conference and would be in nice position to do so with another win this afternoon. San Jose is basically a lock for a playoff berth, win or lose today, and they are still somewhat in striking distance of the Kings (five points back) and Ducks (two points back, Ducks with a game in hand).
Team teal will clash with those Kings on Monday night, who also play tonight – against Edmonton – so this is almost a must-win for the Sharks if they want to stay in the Pacific Division title race.
The Sharks and Stars split the first two meetings of the season, with the Sharks taking the most recent matchup in overtime (4-3) back in January.
Players to Watch
Sharks: Joel Ward. Ward is coming off maybe his worst game of the season. Against Edmonton, Ward finished with a minus-five rating, the worst of his career, in just over 15 minutes of ice time. He also hasn’t tallied a point in his last two games. When Ward scores at least one point, the Sharks are 18-10-4. The Sharks will need the former Washington Capital, who is on pace to have his second highest point total of his career, to get back on track soon.
Stars: Cody Eakin. Seguin’s absence is a huge loss for the Stars, and his replacement on the top line is Eakin. Eakin has consistently been about a 0.5 points per game player throughout his brief career in Dallas, however that has not been the case in March. The 24 year-old Manitoba native has nine points in his last eight games, and that is during a rough stretch of games versus the majority of the league’s best teams. If Eakin continues this great stretch of hockey, it keeps the Stars’ top line very dangerous alongside Jamie Benn and Patrick Sharp.
Keys to the Game
1. Play 60 Minutes
Sounds simple, but the Sharks let go of the rope for an entire period against Edmonton on Thursday allowing four goals in the second period. That cannot happen against a team like Dallas who will make you pay for mistakes in your own zone, like the Oilers often did in the Sharks’ 6-3 loss. Beating a team like the Stars requires remaining focused for all 60 minutes.
2. Limit Giveaways
The Sharks had a staggering 36 giveaways against Edmonton. That’s way too many. The Sharks must cut that number in half, and as mentioned above, limit bad turnovers that lead to scoring chances for Dallas. The Stars will convert those opportunities more often than not.
3. Play Relaxed
You get the feeling that, with April upcoming, the talk of clinching a playoff berth may be getting to some of the Shark’s, especially the younger guys. That may or may not be the case, but San Jose can’t get too caught up in what’s at stake and what time of the year it is. Taking it one game at a time and playing their brand of hockey is what the Sharks must focus on in this home stretch of the campaign.