San Jose Sharks (10-4-1) at Columbus Blue Jackets (7-5-1), 4:00 PST
Reminder -- this game's on the NHL Network!
You may have heard the news that Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi, and Torrey Mitchell are skating and with the team. You may have also heard that news of their imminent return is a bit premature.
One of the most frustrating things about last season's Sharks was that we never got to really see the full team at its peak. Even when things were going well in the beginning, Mitchell was still out and the third-line center position was a mish-mash of what it was supposed to be. Then when all the crazy injuries hit, the team never found its identity again.
I get the sense, though, that this season is different. Rather than being shown something, then having it taken away from us, this lays the groundwork to build the team through early adversity. I don't really mind a soft October as long as bad habits and disturbing trends can be properly addressed. The fact that Patrick Marleau can keep generating offense when he's paired up with what amounts to a checking line is pretty impressive. In terms of eliminating bad habits, San Jose's team defense has slowly gotten better, and perhaps part of that is health on the blueline -- Kent Huskins finally recovering from his foot injury (though there have been plenty of times when he commits an awful turnover and I thought "THAT'S what Sleek was talking about ) and Dan Boyle healing from his broken thumb.
Would you rather start from the top and stumble towards the finish or work out the kinks early on and build towards something better? Well, I suppose ideally you'd want to start strong and finish strong but that rarely happens. Unfortunately, there's no one-for-one injury karma that says no other key Sharks will get hurt because Pavelski, Setoguchi, and Mitchell missed the early part of the season. We'll just have to keep our fingers crossed. I can't wait to see what this team finally looks like when Voltron can finally come together (Patrick Marleau: "And I'll form...the head!"); sometimes injury-returnees mess up team chemistry, but I'm confident that this should have no such ill effect.
For tonight's game, the big concern is obviously containing Rick "Don't Call Me Steve" Nash. Steve Mason has yet to regain his form from his outstanding rookie season, but the Blue Jackets have more scoring depth than last season -- their top-six scorers show a pretty even balance over 13 games with 20 points (Nash), 12, 10, 9, 9, and 8. Their power play is healthy at over 20%, though the Sharks should try their damndest to goad the Jackets into taking bad penalties (paging Scott Nichol), as Columbus' penalty kill is weak at 79%.
Which leads to the inevitable question: are Steve Mason's numbers really bad because the Columbus penalty kill sucks or is Columbus' penalty kill percentage really bad because Steve Mason really sucks? Kinda makes your head hurt, don't it?
Prediction: Sharks 4, Jackets 3. Goals by Boyle, Clowe, Thornton, and Demers.
(By the way, no Gameday post tomorrow for the Wings game. Our dog is getting her leg amputated, so I'll be a bit preoccupied. If you have any extra good karma to spare, please send it her way.)