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Game Preview/Lines #21: Gabriel Enters Fray, Stats Suggest More Goals Coming for Sharks

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Credit: Sheng Peng

Finally, the San Jose Sharks are going to square off against the Golden Knights again.

It’s been three weeks since their heated Feb. 13 match-up, which saw Evander Kane and Ryan Reaves jaw at each other from opposite sides of the penalty box, Jonathan Marchessault injure Radim Simek, and a tepid Sharks response to said Marchessault incursion.

In a compressed 56-game, all-division season, three weeks feels like an eternity.

Of course, San Jose was supposed to play Vegas on Feb. 25, but that game was postponed because of Tomas Hertl testing positive for COVID-19. Before that scheduled tilt, however, we spoke with noted pugilist Kurtis Gabriel – who’s re-entering the line-up for his first NHL game, since, you guessed it, Feb. 13. He had some interesting things to say then about how the Sharks need to play going forward, comments that are still relevant.

Also, when Bob Boughner was hired full-time this summer, he promised a refreshed offensive attack. Per SPORTLOGiQ, he’s actually delivered in many ways, even if the results – San Jose is 20th in the league in Goals Per Game – haven’t necessarily been there.

San Jose Sharks (8-10-2)

Vegas Golden Knights

Max Pacioretty — Chandler Stephenson — Mark Stone

Jonathan Marchessault — William Karlsson — Reilly Smith

Alex Tuch — Cody Glass — Keegan Kolesar

William Carrier — Nicolas Roy — Ryan Reaves

Shea Theodore — Alex Pietrangelo

Alec Martinez — Zach Whitecloud

Nicolas Hague — Dylan Coghlan

Marc-Andre Fleury

(HT Danny Webster)

Where to Watch

Puck drop is 7:30 PM PT at SAP Center. Watch it on NBC Sports Bay Area, AT&T Sportsnet, or NHL.tv.

Morning Skate

Kurtis Gabriel said this before the scheduled Feb. 25 San Jose-Vegas tilt:

He added during that Feb. 23 presser: “I just think as a group as a whole, we got to play harder. Obviously, just from watching up top, it’s easy to say, but I’m ready to get in there and do my part of it.”

Gabriel will get another chance to do his part tonight. We asked him two weeks ago why the Sharks didn’t respond to the Marchessault hit.

“It’s not my position to speak on,” Gabriel said. But he stressed a “team-tough” attitude against this bitter rival:

“I think everybody can take it upon themselves to respond in their own battles, play hard against their team. Things are gonna happen like that, Simmer made a great hit [on Smith], clean hit on their guy, and they’re gonna come back hard at us. So we need to go back hard at them at all times. Not just when there’s a hit. We need to play hard all the time.”

Obviously, San Jose will need more than that to overcome a vaunted Vegas squad, but this will be one of the interesting storylines to watch tonight: Will the Golden Knights bring out the best of the Sharks tonight? Or, like Feb. 13, will they once again bring out the worst?

SPORTLOGiQ Pre-Game Stat of the Night

Before Wednesday’s game, I noted that the San Jose Sharks were actually the NHL’s best in Even Strength Inner Slot Shots on Net:

Game Preview/Lines #20: Karlsson Off PK? Sharks NHL-Best in Key Offensive Area

After being shut out by Colorado, they’re second to Minnesota, but the point remains: San Jose is actually earning a lot of scoring chances in arguably the most dangerous area of the ice.

This was the plan this summer, Bob Boughner reminded us: “Yeah, we talked this summer and we introduced our [technical package] at the beginning of the year, that’s something that we wanted to improve on. Creating chances below the tops of circles and more of a quick strike mentality.

“Beginning of the season, it was a bit of a project. We’re getting it, starting to find that.

“It’s another one of the departments we’ve been really good of, as of late, is creating offense off our forecheck. Once we get into those situations, you want to attack the slot as soon as possible.

“It’s something we’ve really dug in on.”

Specifically, the Sharks are eighth in the league in ES Shot Attempts from the Slot Off the Forecheck. They’re also seventh in ES Rebound Shot Attempts from the Slot.

Leading the forecheck, of course, has been the Evander Kane-Logan Couture-Kevin Labanc line.

“It feels like we’re getting more opportunities in those areas. It feels like we’re going to the net and banging in dirtier goals,” Couture acknowledged. “We know with what we have, we’ve got to find ways to score goals close to the net. I think it’s just being hungrier on the forecheck.

“When we’re good on the forecheck, we’re looking for quick strikes to the slot if it’s there. If not, not throwing pucks away.”

So are the goals coming? Ryan Donato, who hasn’t scored in 13 games, and the rest of the Sharks, sure hope so.

“Yeah, if you look at league-wide, where all the goals are scored, they’re all scored in front of the net or around the net,” Donato noted. “The more we can get it in that area, hopefully the more success we’ll have.”

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