Welcome to the What to Watch segment! Your key NHL game to post on the radar for your weekend hockey viewing.
For this weekend’s pick I will have to go with the Dallas Stars at the San Jose Sharks Saturday. Two Pacific Division clubs that are battling tooth and nail for the division lead and of course a coveted playoff spot!
Keys to victory for the Stars:
-Star Burst: The Pacific Division is the most intriguing of all races at the moment! One point separates four teams for the division lead – the Stars and Coyotes have 89 points, while the Kings and Sharks are both on 88 points as I write this. The Stars have a game Friday in Vancouver, before starting this home-and-home series with the Sharks. This game Saturday, and the return engagement in Dallas next Tuesday could be the decider. The Stars need to stay focused – as they are playing good hockey at the moment and are 6-4 in their past ten. The key will be stealing this one Saturday in the ‘Shark Tank’ and continuing their solid road play this season (20-16-2).
-High Ryder: Michael Ryder has been everything the Stars had hoped he would be and more in his first season in Dallas. He has career highs in goals (35) and points (62), as has found himself entrenched on the first line. He’s a key in this San Jose game because in his last five games he’s been on fire with five goals and eight points. If he continues his scorching pace, he will factor heavily Saturday.
-Loui, Loui: We hear the term “quiet leader” far too much in NHL terms. But as someone who has interviewed Loui Eriksson in the past – I can tell you the mantle applies here. Eriksson leads the Stars with 70 points (26G, 44A), and seems to be involved in every big goal the Stars have scored in the past few weeks. His special-teams play is also vital, and if Eriksson is on form Saturday, then the Sharks will have their hands full.
Keys to victory for the Sharks:
-Short-Term Memory: The Sharks were shutout 2-0 in Phoenix Thursday in a crucial divisional match-up with the Coyotes. By all accounts, the Sharks played well – and peppered the Phoenix goal (38 shots) without success. They will have to shake-off this huge loss, and be prepared to play a Dallas team Saturday that seems to be getting the bounces down the stretch.
-Adverse Adaptation: The Sharks have pretty much ruled the Pacific Division the last few seasons. Finding themselves in surreal waters in fourth at this point of a season will either sink the team, or prove that the leadership of the club can handle adversity. A massive factor this weekend will be Joe Thornton (72 points), and how he rallies his teammates in what is pretty much a ‘must-win’ affair for the men in teal. A loss Saturday will be tough to digest – and even tougher to rally from going to Dallas Tuesday.
-Tanking It: The Sharks have been comfortable on home ice at the ‘Shark Tank’ this season (24-12-3). They need another win on California ice, and they need it Saturday! With Dallas having to play a tough one Friday in Vancouver, the Sharks will have a night of rest on their side going into this one. This is another huge test for this club, but with their home record, and some time to rest weary legs – this game has the Sharks owning their own destiny. If captain Thornton and goalie Antti Niemi (31-22-9, 2.43 GAA, .914 SV%) play up to standard, the Sharks will get the much needed two points.
Enjoy this battle Saturday! It should be an intense and physical match-up, and it’s always entertaining when teams clash at this time of year in do-or-die games. Especially two sides that are battling for a Division lead!
Post any comments or observations you have about the ‘What to Watch‘ game in the ‘Mailbag‘ section, and I will gladly respond! Have a good NHL weekend, and of course enjoy the playoff races!
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