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Game Preview/Lines #5: When Will Sharks Come Back to San Jose? How to Beat Wild Forecheck

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Credit: Tony Webster (CC BY 2.0)

It’s a heartwarming homecoming for Devan Dubnyk and Ryan Donato this weekend.

Well, at least for Dubnyk. We’ll get to Donato’s, I think interesting, relationship with the Minnesota Wild shortly.

Speaking of homecomings, it doesn’t seem like the San Jose Sharks are coming back to San Jose very soon. Yesterday, Brodie Brazil and Kevin Kurz both reported that the Sharks’ home-opener on Feb. 1 will likely be in Arizona. In that case, when will the Sharks be back at the Tank?

Also, in the SPORTLOGiQ Pre-Game Stat of the Night, we look at two Wild strengths that the San Jose Sharks will have to overcome.

San Jose Sharks (2-2-0)

Minnesota Wild (3-1-0)

WHERE TO WATCH

Puck drop is 5 PM PT at Xcel Energy Center. Watch it on NBC Sports Bay Area, FOX Sports North, or NHL.tv.

Morning Skate

It’s safe to say that Ryan Donato was looking for a fresh start after a season and a half in Minnesota.

After a 2019-20 campaign where he was relegated to the fourth line despite leading the Wild with 14 even strength goals, the winger met with GM Bill Guerin.

“If I’m going to be here and not play, then maybe I can go somewhere else,” Donato shared this morning. “It wasn’t said directly in that way, but the message was that after our conversation. That’s the way things were and that’s why things are the way they are now.”

It’s not the first bittersweet quote that Donato has offered about his time in the State of Hockey.

Also just this morning:

Or in training camp:

Or when he got traded to the San Jose Sharks:

They say revenge is a dish best served cold — and Donato would love to serve that on ice tonight.

For Dubnyk, however, it’s all love.

“This is our home now,” Dubnyk said of Minnesota, where he played from 2014-20.

In fact, his family has remained in Minnesota as the Sharks work out where they’re playing their home dates, San Jose or Arizona.

Dubnyk is hoping to finally see his family after tonight’s game. According to NHL COVID-19 protocols, road teams aren’t supposed to get guest tickets, but he hopes the league will make an exception tonight.

“Before I even had a chance to ask anybody for tickets, Zach [Parise] texted me this morning and said he was setting aside four tickets for my wife and kids,” Dubnyk told The Athletic. “I mean, how nice is that?”

Hopefully, Dubnyk won’t lose his way around Xcel Energy Center after the final horn.

“Coming into the rink this morning was certainly strange,” he acknowledged. “Just walking the other way around, took the wrong door. Guys were giving me a hard time.”

Dubnyk may be home, but it looks like the Sharks won’t be soon.

“We know there’s a chance that we’ll have to play our first two [home] games in Arizona,” Bob Boughner acknowledged. “We’re still, in the long term, hoping latest we get back [to SAP Center] is February 13.

“No one really knows, to be honest with you.”

After their first two “home” games in Arizona on Feb. 1 and 3, the Sharks hit the road again. They’re then scheduled to play two home contests on Feb. 13 and 15 before another road trip. For what it’s worth, the San Jose Barracuda announced their schedule this morning and will open their campaign with three “home” games in Tucson on Feb. 5, 6, and 8.

It’s cutting close to Feb. 13, however. My guess is that both the San Jose Sharks and Barracuda are really targeting late February for their return to the Santa Clara County. On Feb. 26, after kicking off the year with 14 of 18 on the road, the Sharks are scheduled to begin a six-game homestand at SAP Center. On Feb. 27, the Barracuda start a three-game homestand.

SPORTLOGiQ Pre-Game Stat of the Night

Can the San Jose Sharks overcome Minnesota’s heavy forecheck and stout penalty kill?

Per SPORTLOGiQ, the Wild come into the game sixth in the NHL in % of Even Strength Offensive Zone Dump-ins Recovered (38.6%, Lightning are tops at 44.8) and second in OZ Contested Loose Puck Recovery Win % (37.7%, Flames are best at 38.4).

The first stat, in particular, will be a good test for the Sharks blueliners: Will Erik Karlsson show the same “pop” in his skating that he did on Wednesday going back for dump-ins? The same question goes for any of the defensemen, from Marc-Edouard Vlasic to Radim Simek.

So how do you beat this insistent forecheck?

“We talked this morning about breakout support. They come heavy. We can’t be fragmented on our breakouts. We gotta have close support. Make those 5-10 foot passes instead of trying to pass through people,” Boughner offered this morning. “It may not look pretty in the beginning. You might have to chip a few pucks out, put it behind. Their D wants to pinch, you might have to put pucks behind them, into a soft area, make it a footrace.”

Here’s an example from Wednesday of good support on breakouts against an aggressive forecheck.

Between Mario Ferraro (38), Brent Burns (88), and Tomas Hertl (48), they make three short passes that gets them just over the tops of the circles. But when Jaden Schwartz (17) overcommits on Hertl without turning over the puck, Ferraro is able to find an open seam and complete a stretch pass.

So Karlsson and company will be helped by forwards coming back down low, like Hertl, to accept a short pass.

As for the penalty kill, the Wild have the second-ranked PK in the league in part because they keep a close watch on the slot.

They’re fourth in the NHL in SH Shot Attempts from the Slot Against (1.06, Rangers are tops at 0.98) and lead the league in SH Passes to the Slot Against (0.68).

“What they’re doing is using some different personnel. You don’t see Parise and some of these guys kill as much as they used to. They’re using their big guys, Greenway and Foligno, big, strong, and long sticks. That’s where their success is coming from,” Boughner noted. “Our job tonight is quick puck movement. You can’t hold onto it because they’re big and lanky.”

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