Nashville Predators (2-2-3) coach Barry Trotz may be reminded of the overrated movie Groundhog Day when they visit HP Pavilion Saturday, February 2 at 7:30 p.m. PST. They will try to be the first to beat the San Jose Sharks (7-0-0). It may feel like he is living through the 2006 and 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs again, when his scrappy but over-matched team fell in the first round with a single win.
Right now, the Sharks are being carried by the good play from the six players coach Todd McLellan uses on the first power play (PP) unit: Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Dan Boyle and either Antti Niemi or Thomas Greiss. The defensive pair of Brad Stuart and Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been reliable in heavy minutes, and Ryane Clowe, Martin Havlat and Scott Gomez all seem solid choices to flank Couture.
The rest of the forward corps needed only to push the play and stay defensively responsible. Now that the first line has slowed to human, someone will have to tickle the twine from a checking line.
The blue line may be getting exactly what it needs—reinforcements. Brent Burns is still out, but skating with the team. Dan Boyle's two-day bout with illness cost him just one game, and Jason Demers has been activated. For Demers to play, either Justin Braun, Douglas Murray or Matt Irwin would have to sit. All have made mistakes but played better than the norm for the third pair, and all bring different things the team needs to the table.
With two players probably not 100 percent, two more that could benefit from a lighter load and the fourth line having little impact, there is a good chance San Jose dresses seven on the blue line. James Sheppard would likely be the odd man out, though he has looked good.
The Sharks already had to waive Frazer McLaren, who was on the ice for opening night but invisible. He may get a chance to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who claimed him on Thursday, January 31. He was not going to in San Jose once Scott Gomez was signed and showed he still has some game.
Sheppard is not the only forward the Sharks could consider sitting. Tommy Wingels brings energy and speed, but has not shown much secondary scoring potential as the right wing of the third line. T.J. Galiardi has played the other wing with him but was a scratch (coach's decision) Thursday. He had been the best player on that line in western Canada—and the only with more than one point—but has not fared as well at home.
Two would have to sit for the Sharks to play seven defensemen. Right now, the rest are too valuable to be healthy scratches.
Andrew Desjardins is too good on the penalty kill (PK) and in the circle to come out. Adam Burish is the top player on that line and also kills penalties. Michal Handzus has been the most important checking line forward, even if the NHL point total does not reflect that.
The Sharks have depth. Their top players are elite. They are at home. But let me tell you five reasons why the Predators will win this game...