The Philadelphia Flyers make their first visit to the Bay Area in nearly two years Monday, February 3. That still does not account for having last won there in the 1900s, and the pictured personnel matchups suggest the San Jose Sharks will triumph again.
Ironically after such a time apart, the teams meet again in Philadelphia at the end of the month. That is also good news for San Jose, coming in riding a 13-game winning streak in this matchup overall and without even a road loss since 2000.
This is odd given both teams have had similar success. They are two of the three teams to have three conference finals appearances over the last nine years. Yet unlike the Detroit Red Wings, neither has won a Stanley Cup.
The timing of this game could not be better for the Flyers, however. The Sharks have been without the versatile (volatile?) Raffi Torres and penalty-killer Adam Burish all season. They have recently lost their best player, Logan Couture, after Tomas Hertl also went down while leading the team in goals.
Two more players are also day-to-day. Matt Tennyson was recalled to San Jose as insurance with Jason Demers unavailable with a lower-body injury that CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz reported Sunday was neither knee- nor ankle-related. Tyler Kennedy is questionable with a lower-body injury of his own, and it is more likely the lineup will remain intact from Saturday's win.
It seems the injuries are catching up to the Sharks. They just broke a three-game losing streak and have scored just four regulation goals in their last five games. That should add urgency for a team that knows it cannot take anyone for granted with its injury-riddled roster.
Moreover, the Flyers are only 2-4-1 in their last seven games and will be without Kimmo Timonen Monday. Even in the weak Metropolitan Division, they would not earn a wild card berth with the 10th-best record in the Eastern Conference. (To show how the Western Conference superiority is concentrated at the top, their record is also behind nine teams outside the Eastern Time Zone.)
Meanwhile, San Jose has the best home record in the NHL since the last time these teams played and a better overall record than every Eastern Conference team but the Pittsburgh Penguins. Four Western Conference teams are better, but having home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is already a near-certainty.
If the Sharks won this matchup in seasons when the teams were comparable, they should win when they are simply better.
With five forwards projected for not just the starting roster but special teams roles out, the San Jose Sharks just do not have the depth their opponent boasts.
The Philadelphia Flyers have seven forwards averaging over a point per two games and plenty of defensive depth at the position. They have only Claude Giroux at the very top as good as the three best Sharks (Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau) remaining, but that disadvantage is not as significant as the advantage in probably eight of the other nine spots right now.
The San Jose Sharks have a blue line that skates and blocks shots as well as any. They might be average offensively without Jason Demers, but they are still deep and talented enough to be easily in the top-third of the NHL.
The loss of Demers is probably not as significant as Kimmo Timonen's for the Philadelphia Flyers. He was one of three blue-liners even averaging one point every five games. That leaves them with even less in the offensive end than the Sharks, who are also better defensively.
No matter how well Chris Mason or anyone else the Philadelphia Flyers put in net, Antti Niemi gives the San Jose Sharks the edge. Moreover, he has been out-played so far in the 2013-14 NHL season by Alex Stalock.
Niemi has a Stanley Cup and Vezina finalist season. He is coming off a 29-save, one-goal effort against his fellow 2010 champions Saturday. Stalock looked vulnerable to shots off the boards Thursday, but has been stellar the rest of the season.
The San Jose Sharks have a coach who has led them to two conference finals and finished as a finalist for the Jack Adams trophy for NHL coach of the year. They have an assistant who won a Stanley Cup as head coach...and assistant, scout and player. They have probably the best goalie coach in the game and maybe the best video coach, as well as another well-respected defensive assistant.
The Philadelphia Flyers are working with an interim head coach and thus staff. That lack of rooted approach alone gives them a disadvantage over most teams, much less an accomplished staff like San Jose's.