As I've previously mentioned, the Sharks are making it pretty tough to do any sort of analysis about this season so far. They played two games on back-to-back afternoons in Sweden, and then they've had a week off. They play five games in the next week or so, against Atlanta tonight, the Hurricanes Tuesday night (also at home), and then a Northwest road trip against the Avalanche, Oilers, and Flames. After next weekend we'll have enough of the season under our belt to begin talking about team strengths and weaknesses, but for now we're still trying to figure out what exactly the deal is with this year's Sharks.
Case in point: the forward lines were different in the later half of last Saturday's game than they had been at the start of the season. As David Pollak reports, the current forward lines are:
McGinn-Thornton-Setoguchi (the same as Friday and Saturday, and the team's best line so far.)
Marleau-Pavelski-Mitchell (Marleau takes Clowe's place on this line.)
Clowe-Couture-Heatley (Clowe, the team's leading scorer, is playing with Couture and Heatley.)
McLaren-Nichol-McCarthy (...and the rest!)
Todd McLellan isn't afraid to mix up his lines, so we don't know how long these match-ups will survive. I love the Thornton line and predict big things for them this year, and the other two lines are basically made up of six good players you can mix around until you find some chemistry. It definitely looks as though the team will keep rolling with three powerful scoring lines, which I think is a great strategy. The Sharks' have forward depth that few teams can match, and they should take advantage of it. In the two games in Sweden there were eleven different Sharks with at least four shots on goal, and if that trend continues it's going to mean good things offensively.
Antti Niemi gets the start tonight. Everyone seems to think the two goalies will just alternate unless one really proves himself to be better, and that sounds like a fine plan to me. Sharks fans were a little worried earlier this week when Thomas Greiss got sent down and had to clear waivers, but now that he's safely down there I expect him to stay in the minors for the rest of the season, baring a trade or injury. I absolutely want to see Greiss up with the real Sharks next season, but until then I hope he's able to continue to develop his talents battling with Stalock in Worcester.
For tonight's game, the Sharks have had a week off and the Thrashers went to a shootout last night in Anaheim. The Sharks should have the advantage of rest, and the coaching staff has been doing its best this week with varying practices to make sure there won't be any rust. I expect the Sharks to come out shooting a crapload, like they always do, and if they keep the pressure on all game it could be an ugly night for Atlanta.
Prediction: Sharks win 4-1, with goals by Clowe, Thornton, Boyle, and Marleau.