How to watch
Start time: 10:30 PM EST / 7:30 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Sharks region: NBC Sports California
Elsewhere: NHL.tv / Rogers NHL Live
Tuesday night, by the time the puck dropped at the Staples Center, the Canadiens were already aware that the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins had recorded victories on the night, and the Carolina Hurricanes had secured a point against the Boston Bruins. Needing a solid effort to keep pace with their wild-card rivals, the Habs responded with a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings: just their third victory in California over the last six seasons.
Tale of the Tape
|54.0% (4th)||Corsi-for pct.||54.9% (1st)|
|3.01 (13th)||Goals per game||3.61 (3rd)|
|2.90 (13th)||Goals against per game||3.08 (19th)|
|12.3% (31st)||PP%||25.1 (6th)|
|80.3% (16th)||PK%||81.7% (10th)|
Thursday night, the Habs swing into San Jose for game two of their trip to the Golden State. Sitting second in the Pacific Division and hunting their 40th win of the season, the Sharks are a far cry from the Kings team so unceremoniously deposed from their throne by the rest of the league this season. The addition of Erik Karlsson — who will miss this game with a groin injury — to what was already one of the more potent defence corps in the NHL has only bolstered an offence featuring the likes of Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, and Evander Kane.
To make matters worse for their opponents, the Sharks’ supporting cast are enjoying breakout seasons of their own. Timo Meier, after a 36-point first-full-season in the NHL, already has 54 in 63 games this year. Similarly, Kevin Labanc is building on a 40-point season with 43 points in 66 games. Finally, Tomas Hertl, after being stuck around a 0.5-points-per-game pace for much of the previous four seasons, is having a near point-per-game breakout season with 58 points in 61 appearances. All this is why, despite Karlsson himself surprisingly tallying only three goals on the campaign, the Sharks still sit third in the league in goals for.
One area where the Sharks are struggling is between the pipes, and their team average .908 save percentage during five-on-five play (league average: .925; Canadiens average: .927) is a key factor in why the Sharks trail the Calgary Flames for the division lead. Martin Jones may have made 40 saves on 41 shots en route to a 3-1 win the last time these two teams met, but the San Jose starter, in the first year of a six-year $5.75-million contract, is posting career-worst numbers in terms of save percentage (.897) and goals-against average (2.93). Moreover, his goals saved above average (-16.60) is third-worst in the league, behind Keith Kinkaid and Jonathan Quick, the latter of whom the Habs defeated on Tuesday. It is a testament to the strength of the Sharks team that despite Jones’s failings, he possesses a 31-13-5 season record.
With a rare California victory under their belt, all eyes will now be pointed at Claude Julien to see if he will insert Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who was scratched against the Kings due to fatigue, back into the lineup. If the Canadiens bench boss makes that uncharacteristic move of tinkering with a winning combination, will it be Jordan Weal — who scored his first goal as a Canadien against the Kings — making his exit, or will it be someone else? Will Antti Niemi, having not played since February 17, return to the net in his old stomping grounds, or will Carey Price start his ninth consecutive game, something that he hasn’t done since January of 2018?
For once, despite their precarious position in the standings, the combination of the prowess of the Sharks and the past history of the Habs in California makes this game one where the fans may be more accepting of a negative outcome. That said, two points here — or even one — would be a huge indicator of how far this Canadiens team has come, and serve as a monumental confidence boost for the team heading into Anaheim and beyond.