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Game Preview/Lines #9: Where Are Ducks Strong? What’s Going on with Leonard?

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Credit: jondoeforty1 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Can the last-place San Jose Sharks begin to make up ground in the West tonight?

They’ve had a week off to touch up their game, including their 5-on-5 and power play problems. More on those issues here:

To Score More Goals, Sharks Want to Increase Puck Possession, Activate D Besides Burns/Karlsson

An Argument for Splitting Burns & Karlsson on Sharks’ Power Play

We got some additional insight on the PP from Ryan Donato today, and his three goals withstanding, we talked about how he hasn’t scored this year. Bob Boughner (and SPORTLOGiQ) clued us in on Anaheim’s strengths and John Leonard’s immediate future. Also, is a change in San Jose’s top-four defensive pairings in the cards?

And, Huntington Beach native Sasha Chmelevski makes his NHL debut (again), this time with Long Beach native Matt Nieto. Beach Boys, anybody?

San Jose Sharks (3-5-0)

Anaheim Ducks (4-5-2)

Henrique-Getzlaf-Terry

Heinen-Steel-Silfverberg

Comtois-Lundestrom-Rakell

Deslauriers-Backes-Rowney

Lindholm-Shattenkirk

Fowler-Hakanpaa

Hutton-Larsson

Gibson

Where to Watch

Puck drop is 7 PM PT at Honda Center. Watch it on NBC Sports Bay Area, Prime Ticket, or NHL.tv.

Morning Skate

Ryan Donato has scored in a variety of ways this year: A power play tip, a bad-angle shot off a defender, and a batted puck. But where’s his vaunted wrist shot?

“Typically, I’m a shot-first guy. Scores on the shot,” Donato acknowledged. “So for me to score in those other ways, hopefully, it’s a sign of good things to come for me.”

It should be: Before this season, 14 of Donato’s 29 career NHL goals were scored off the wrister. Interestingly, five were also scored off the backhand, a higher-than-usual ratio. The winger appears to boast an arsenal of dangerous shots, just what the goal-starved San Jose Sharks were looking for.

Donato will be part of San Jose’s second power play unit tonight, which should also feature Timo Meier, Evander Kane, Mario Ferraro, and an undisclosed forward. Kane and Meier have played a lot of net front and high slot on the man advantage, so is this a chance for Donato to show off his shot on the PP?

Interestingly, no. Donato will return to net-front duty tonight, where he has proven effective with his excellent hand-eye coordination.

Speaking of PP2, one early-season staple who’s missing is John Leonard, sent down to the Barracuda last week.

“Johnny’s going to be a great player for us. This is part of his development, going down and playing some games. He’ll be back. But the NHL is not a development league,” Boughner said, also citing Meier and Tomas Hertl as players who used the AHL as a springboard for NHL success. “This is the best league in the world. You just don’t just step in. Some guys do, the lottery pick guys. Other guys, you gotta learn the league. You gotta learn to be consistent.”

Speaking of changes, Boughner also intimated earlier this week that his top-four defensive pairings might change soon. He hasn’t been thrilled with the results from Mario Ferraro-Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Brent Burns.

“It’s been up and down, to be honest,” Boughner admitted. “As we get into some home games, maybe you’ll see the switch back to a Mario and Burns playing against the other team’s top lines.”

So this Southern California road swing will be a litmus test for the current pairings.

It’s interesting to note that a reunited Ferraro-Burns was offered as the “shutdown” pairing. Last season, when Boughner took over for Peter DeBoer, he leaned on Vlasic-Karlsson as his go-to pairing at home in the defensive zone and against the top lines. Does this represent a sea change in his philosophy, an admission of the decline in Vlasic and/or Karlsson’s game?

Finally, Chmelevski looks like he’s going to make his NHL debut next to Nieto and Marcus Sorensen.

“I know Nietsy is from Long Beach. We talked about that a little bit,” Chmelevski said. “That’s pretty cool we got two California guys.”

“I liked watching Teemu Selanne a lot. Just because he was a right-handed player,” the right-handed center recalled. “He had a lot of skill, was a lot of fun to watch.”

SPORTLOGiQ Pre-game Stat of the Night

The Ducks will present a different challenge than the San Jose Sharks’ last opponent, the Colorado Avalanche, that’s for sure.

Per SPORTLOGiQ, Anaheim is fourth in NHL with a 39.1 Even Strength Offensive Zone Dump-ins Recovered % (San Jose is 19th at 34.9), best in the league with a 69.0 ES OZ Dump-ins Without Opposition Exit % (San Jose is 20th at 61.2).

In short, the Ducks are strong on the forecheck, in terms of recovering dump-ins and preventing the opposition from exiting the zone. This will be a test for Boughner’s defensive corps.

On the flip side, Boughner added: “They’re strong forcing you to dump pucks into the neutral zone. Their D press up.

“We have to spend time in their end. You gotta put pucks behind Fowler, Shattenkirk, guys like that. You have to try to make them defend as much as possible.”

It’s going to be a delicate balance tonight for the Sharks: On the attack, they’re going to be forced to dump the puck in, but can they time well-placed dump-ins with speed from their forecheckers? If they can beat the Ducks’ defensemen to the puck on the forecheck, this will help San Jose’s poor ES OZ Possession Time (their 4:40 is 29th in the NHL).

Fortunately for the Sharks, Anaheim is 29th in the league in limiting ES OZ Possession Time (they allow, on average, 5:55 each game).

This is a must-win battle if San Jose wants to begin to turn around their season.

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timorous me

I wonder who had Game #9 as the one in which Patty would make his debut in the top six? (I feel like the eye test has shown him to be pretty effective this season, but still, this is just the latest damning indictment of the Sharks’ lack of forward depth.)

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