San Jose Sharks (14-4-4) at Nashville Predators (9-8-1), 5 PM PST
I think we pretty much all agreed that San Jose's Achilles' Heel was going to be its defense. There were always questions about whether Evgeni Nabokov would rebound from a bad playoff or if Dany Heatley would be an utter disaster, but it'd be pretty hard to argue that the forwards and goaltending would all implode at once. But that defense? Other than Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, there were a lot of questions marks. Douglas Murray could alternate between emulating Scott Stevens or a traffic pylon, Rob Blake wasn't getting any younger, and Kent Huskins...well, Earl Sleek told us a lot about Kent Huskins over the past few years.
Which leads us to the last few Sharks games, where the defense seems to have come under siege, and not in a Steven Seagal "I'm just the cook" kind of way. Part of the problem is that it seems like several guys (*cough* HUSKINS *cough*) like to pinch at inopportune times, leaving to all sorts of moments of high anxiety. The other part comes when the Sharks are deep in the defensive zone, and the team can't get the puck out.
Now I know I'm singling out the blueliners here, but it is a team concept, so some responsibility does fall on the forwards. If someone (*cough* HUSKINS *cough*) decides to pinch who isn't Dan Boyle, there's a chance that they won't be able to play catch-up in the defensive zone. The nearest forward is supposed to cover for the pinching d-man, and you'd think by now this would have been beaten into the heads of the guys -- it's been one of Todd McLellan's signature systems since Day 1 of training camp...last year.
Like Homer Simpson yelling "Stupid TV. Be more funny!", I find myself saying, "Stupid Sharks. Be more defensive!" a lot lately. It's not a system thing, because McLellan's system has proven to work time and again when everyone's got their head in the game. It's all about mental lapses and bad habits, and the problem with bad habits in November is that they can become ingrained into muscle memory come February, and then they're the sword you fall on in May. We don't need that to happen again, do we?
So, it's simple, really. Look around, know where your teammates are, communicate, play your positions, and don't freakin' panic when you're trying to clear the puck. You know, the stuff they teach you the first day you put on skates.
The Predator I'd Like On My Team: I've always been a big fan of Steve Sullivan, ever since his days on the Blackhawks. The guy had hustle and jam in his game, along with a pretty good set of hands. He's like Martin St. Louis, but not as good (and that's not a knock on Sullivan): small, fast, and can play in any situation. After his incredible comeback from back problems that took two years of his career, you gotta feel good for the guy. He can skate on my team any time. Oh, and he's one of the regular Shark Killers, and those guys just shouldn't skate against San Jose.
Prediction: Sharks 3, Predators 2. Goals by Pavelski, Boyle, and Heatley.