The NHL is set up for a packed night of action on Thursday night. Twelve games are on the board for December 20. One of these games will be between two of the top teams in the Western Conference. To end the night, the Winnipeg Jets will visit the San Jose Sharks.
The Jets have started out the season with a record of 22-10-2, which has them tied for the top spot in the Central Division with the Nashville Predators. Winnipeg lost their last game against the Los Angeles Kings. Before that loss, the Jets had won five games in a row and nine of their last ten. Winnipeg will look to get back in the win column with a road win against the Sharks.
San Jose has had a strong start to this season, putting up a record of 19-11-5 so far. The Sharks are currently in second place of the Pacific Division, behind only the Calgary Flames. San Jose has won five games in a row and seven of their last eight games. The Sharks will look to keep the winning streak alive with a win at home on Thursday night.
Thursday night’s matchup will be the first game of the season series between these two teams. The Jets and the Sharks will meet two more times on February 5 and March 12. Both teams are competing for the top spot in the Western Conference, which makes me believe this is a set up for a really good game.
Last Season’s Matchups
Winnipeg and San Jose met up three times during last season. San Jose hosted the first game of the season series. Logan Couture scored twice for the Sharks. Tomas Hertl and Marc-Edouard Vlasic each had two points for San Jose. Martin Jones had a 38 save shutout for the Sharks to give them a 4-0 win at home.
The second game of the season series shifted to Winnipeg. Logan Couture scored another goal for San Jose, but this time it was the only goal to be put up by the Sharks. Mathieu Perreault had two goals for the Jets, while Andrew Copp and Tyler Myers had two assists. Connor Hellebuyck stopped 31 of 32 shots for Winnipeg in route to a 4-1 win.
The third and final game of the season series moved back to San Jose. Joe Pavelski had a goal and an assist for the Sharks. Joel Armia had two goals for Winnipeg. Bryan Little had two goals and one assist, including the game-winning goal in overtime. The Jets were able to win 5-4 in a tightly contested overtime matchup.
Winnipeg won the season series 2-1 last season. The Jets went on to finish second place in the entire NHL, while San Jose was in third place of the Pacific Division. Both teams scored nine goals against each other, which shows you that overall it was a close series. I expect another close series between these teams this season.
Winnipeg’s special teams have been doing really well this season. The Jets have the league’s best power play, which is scoring at a rate of 30 percent. Winnipeg’s penalty kill is not doing quite as well. The Jets have stopped their opponent’s power play 81.2 percent of the time. Winnipeg’s penalty kill could do better, but their power play is extremely dangerous.
The Sharks special teams have been solid this season, but much more balanced. San Jose’s power play has been producing at a rate of 24.3 percent. The Sharks penalty kill has stopped opposing team’s power plays 85.3 percent of the time. San Jose’s penalty kill has been fueled by their strong defense this season.
The Jets have the stronger power play, but San Jose’s top three penalty kill could slow it down. The Sharks solid power play will match up against Winnipeg’s solid penalty kill. On paper, this should be a tightly contested matchup when it comes to special teams. This will likely mean that whichever team can put up a better performance on special teams will take the game.
I expect Connor Hellebuyck to start in net on Thursday night for the Jets. Hellebuyck has started out the season with a 15-9-1 record in his starts. He has posted a save percentage of .908 and a 2.90 GAA this season. He has been a consistent starter in net, but I believe his numbers could improve.
Martin Jones will likely start in net for the Sharks on Thursday. Jones has put up a .901 save percentage and a GAA of 2.81. In his 24 starts this season, he has a record of 14-7-3. Jones has been doing solid, but like Hellebuyck, his numbers could improve.
The Sharks are coming into Thursday night’s game on a strong winning streak. I believe that this is a prime game for it to end though. Winnipeg matches up well with their special teams, which could help them get a win. The Jets also have a really solid goalie. Winnipeg was able to win the season series last season, and I believe they will be able to jump out to a 1-0 start this season.
San Jose is listed as a -120 against the money line. The Sharks are expected to win this game 55 percent of the time. I believe that the Jets are good enough to be closer to favored in this game. San Jose is on a winning streak and this seems like a solid game for it to end. Winnipeg is tied for the top spot in the Western Conference and I believe they will keep it that way with a win on the road on Thursday night.