The San Jose Sharks host their first weekend game of the 2013 NHL season Saturday when the Colorado Avalanche come to town for a 1:00 p.m. contest at HP Pavilion. The visitor’s website describes the competition:
Colorado has outscored the competition 7-1 in its last two contests while San Jose appears to be a juggernaut early on, netting 15 goals in their first three games.
Both teams are expected to fight their way into the playoffs in a competitive NHL Western Conference. Non-divisional games are more important because of the changes to scheduling forced by the NHL lockout.
But this game has a little more meaning. These two teams made one of the big moves of the NHL trade deadline.
San Jose sent their best third-line forward, then-23-year old Jaime McGinn, and moved down in the draft for two forwards who were not quite as good or young. The results were not what they wanted.
McGinn lit up Colorado opponents for eight goals and five assists in 17 games. That was four more goals and three more assists in 18 fewer games than the combination of Daniel Winnik and T.J. Galiardi did for their new team, lending to its struggles continuing.
More importantly, the Avs got back into the playoff hunt while the Sharks nearly fell out of it after this trade. Clinging to seventh playoff seed was little consolation for being bounced faster than any previous Sharks team while the division rival (and lower-seeded) Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup.
Short-term failure was turned into a long-term loss from this trade when the Sharks let Winnik walk via free agency. He signed with the Anaheim Ducks for two years and $3.6 million, meaning his four goals from the third line could have been kept in San Jose and from a rival for less commitment than Adam Burish.
Then again, Galiardi remains in San Jose and is their only forward not on the top two lines having scored more than one point. McGinn has yet to score for Colorado (2-1-0).
Beyond that storyline, Saturday’s game is a tale of two very different teams.
Colorado lacks star power but has great forward depth: P.A. Parenteau was added in July to that corps that also features Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, John Mitchell, Paul Stastny and the lone holdover from the last Colorado Stanley Cup (2001), Milan Hejduk. But not having Ryan O’Reilly because of a contract dispute and Steve Downie because of injury keeps their depth from being much of an asset as their lack of star power is a liability.
The situation is similar on the blue line. Erik Johnson is really the only player capable of reaching elite status soon, but he has been struggling with inconsistency most of his career. At the same time, the rest of the unit is solid to good: Ryan O’Byrne, Jan Hejda, Ryan Wilson, Greg Zanon and either Matt Hunwick or Tyson Barrie.
The difference thus far is Semyon Varlamov, who is justifying trading a first-round pick for him a couple years back by allowing just five goals on 97 shots through three games: .948 save percentage, 1.68 goals against average (GAA).
Meanwhile San Jose has relied on Joe Thornton’s line for 11 of its 15 goals, including all seven . Martin Havlat has two of the other goals and Logan Couture got his even-strength goal with the second line, too. That leaves one goal scored by the third line, and it was from the blue line (Marc-Edouard Vlasic).
That blue line has been solid despite missing arguably its best player, Brent Burns, as well as the player most likely to replace him, Jason Demers. Matt Irwin has stepped in and Vlasic, Brad Stuart and especially Dan Boyle (two goals, one assist) have stepped up.
The same difference holds true in net. Antti Niemi followed a stellar season-opening performance when his team really needed it with two sub-par games. He continues to be plagued on the penalty kill, where the Sharks have allowed five of their seven goals, though two of those goals came on 5-on-3 chances.
Colorado is again a contrast, stopping eight of nine man-advantages but scoring on just one in 10. Look for them to hold San Jose to a single power play goal and get one of their own. A checking line will break through with a goal to keep pace with Colorado’s depth scoring, and the star power of the first two lines will carry the Sharks to the exra goal they need to stay unbeaten.