The San Jose Sharks split two previous meetings with the Minnesota Wild by 3-1 scores. Expect another low-scoring affair when the teams play for the last time in the 2013-14 NHL season on Saturday, January 25.
The preview before their last clash in San Jose examines how their personnel compared when relatively healthy. Things have changed considerably in the six weeks since, but both teams have the same goal: San Jose is looking for home-ice advantage for at least the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, while Minnesota cannot realistically expect better than a wild card berth in a very tough Western Conference.
The Sharks have lost scoring-line forwards Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture as well as role-players Scott Hannan and (predictably) Martin Havlat. The Wild lost Zach Parise during that time, but he returned in to help them get a win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night.
That was their eighth win in their last 11 games, and one of the reasons is unexpected secondary scoring. Even Matt Cooke has provided more than just general malfeasance, with nine points in his last 14 games.
Meanwhile, San Jose is looking for its fifth winning streak of six or more games in the last 53 weeks after a 1-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets despite the aforementioned injuries. Joe Pavelski scored the only goal for his 19th in the last 21 games, and it will be interesting to see if Minnesota native Alex Stalock returns in net after consecutive shutouts a week apart.
Justin Braun is also a native, and the game actually features a number of familiar players for both fan bases. Former Sharks Dany Heatley, Torrey Mitchell and prospect Charlie Coyle are with the Wild. Brent Burns, James Sheppard and the injured Havlat are now with San Jose after spending time with Minnesota.
The Sharks are firmly in second place, with more than three games separating them on either side from the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks and third-place Los Angeles Kings. The Wild are looking to keep a wild card berth for the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, sitting just a game ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes for the last Western Conference berth.
Both teams defend well and have two strong goalies and will have a playoff-type, tight game. They are also scrappy enough to both score something in regulation.
However, San Jose is the best team in the NHL at home since the end of last year's lockout. The record during the 2013-14 NHL season is 18-2-3 at home while Minnesota is 9-13-3 on the road. That should be enough for a one-goal, regulation win.