San Jose Sharks Face Wild In Final Road Test Of Season

Jan 23, 2016; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski (8) scores a goal on a shot against Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon (46) during the third period at SAP Center at San Jose. San Jose defeated Minnesota 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 23, 2016; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski (8) scores a goal on a shot against Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon (46) during the third period at SAP Center at San Jose. San Jose defeated Minnesota 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Jose Sharks look to use two days of rest to their advantage against a Minnesota Wild team a win away from clinching a playoff-berth.

Possibly the most important facet of the Sharks‘ game this year has been their success away from home, which bodes well not only for this matchup versus the Minnesota Wild, but also for postseason success.

The Sharks will attempt to win their season-leading 28th road game of the season, but it will not be easy against the Wild, who know that one win puts them in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. San Jose should be fresh and ready to go for this one, as they are coming off two-days rest following an impressive comeback victory over Nashville.

With a playoff berth already in hand and third place in the Pacific Division locked up, the Sharks have nothing to lose in these final three games, but getting results and momentum for their playoff run will be important.

San Jose has rode their stars to success this season, as Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns have 78, 76 and 74 points, respectively. Those three, plus the dynamic duo between the pipes of Martin Jones and James Reimer have been the spark plug for a team who bounced-back well from a disappointing 2014-15 campaign.

In the state of hockey, the Wild have finally gotten rid of the pesky Avalanche and taken firm control of the final playoff spot. However, Minnesota has dropped three straight against some generally weak foes in Ottawa, Winnipeg and Detroit.

Ryan Suter has been the staple of the Wild blue line core for years, but his presence has never been felt more than it has this year. Suter’s 51 points are a career high, and he is second in the league in ice time, with an absurd 28:38 TOI/G.

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While he has regressed a bit from his unearthly 2014-15 season, goaltender Devan Dubnyk has lived up to the huge contract he earned last summer and had a good season in net for the Wild, posting a 2.34 GAA and .918 save percentage along with five shutouts. Dubnyk will get the nod tonight against Reimer, who performed very well on Saturday in Nashville, stopping 28 of 30 shots that came his way.

Players to Watch

Sharks: Joonas Donskoi. The Sharks’ lone rookie forward is going through a rough stretch, notching just a single point in his last six games and 19 straight shots without a goal. The Sharks are nearly unbeatable in regulation, 21-2-5, when the Finn tallies a point. Last time these teams met, Donskoi scored two points in team teal’s victory. Getting on the stat sheet a time or two before the regular season comes to a close would be huge for the youngster’s confidence.

Wild: Erik Haula. Another young Finn who has great potential, Haula is moving in the opposite direction of Donskoi. The speedster seems to make the Wild go, just as Donskoi does for the Sharks. Haula is coming off a 10-game point streak where he recorded 12 points in the month of March. The Wild have three great leaders and players in Suter, Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, but their depth and lack of power outside of those three have been an issue for them in past postseason appearances since Suter and Parise joined the squad. Getting production outside of those three is a necessity for the Wild to make any sort of noise in the playoffs, and Haula has the potential to provide that.

Keys to the Game

1. Get An Early Goal

Dubnyk has struggled mightily in his last three games in net, allowing three-plus goals in each start, and this will be his fourth start in six days. Getting one past him early could make coach John Torchetti consider pulling his net minder, or just get Dubnyk’s confidence level down. It would also put further pressure on Minnesota to avoid losing their fourth consecutive contest.

2. Production Outside of the Big Three

Getting such good play from Pavelski, Burns and Thornton is good news, but San Jose needs to keep getting points from guys other than those three. The Sharks have good pieces outside of them in Tomas Hertl, Joel Ward, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Justin Braun, and those pieces will be heavily relied upon come playoff time. We know that the “Big Three” will, hopefully, keep scoring when the playoffs come, but what we don’t know is who will step up on the biggest stage. Those guys above are main cogs of this Sharks team and seeing goals and assists from those names on the postgame stat-sheet would be nice.

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3. Play Smart and Safe

No illegal hits warranting suspensions, not getting blown-out, and coming out injury-free – those are three tasks team teal must complete tonight. The Wild need a win and are at home, so if they win in OT or by a goal or two, it’s not the end of the world. San Jose is still without Marc-Edouard Vlasic (who insists he will return for the playoffs), Matt Nieto and Matt Tennyson, so they don’t want any more players leaving the lineup. Play hard, smart and stout defensively and hopefully a winning result will come.