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Photo Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

WGD #41: Three things to watch for against San Jose

Happy New Year!

The Red Wings are set to play their final game of the decade tonight on New Year’s Eve against the Western Conference’s San Jose Sharks. The Sharks have had a down year, having just reached the Western Conference Finals last season. Now, they sit fourth last in the entire NHL with a 17-20-3 record. Slightly good news for the Red Wings, who own San Jose’s third round pick in the upcoming draft.

The Red Wings look to snap a six game losing streak and go in to 2020 on a good note.

Projected Lines

Detroit Red Wings

The lineup is starting to get messy as the injury bug strikes once again. Along with the injured Anthony Mantha, news came out today that Andreas Athanasiou will miss the next 2-3 weeks with an upper-body injury. Additionally, Valtteri Filppula is hopeful for tonight, however, not a guarantee. Filppula missed Sunday’s game in Tampa Bay.

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In correspondence with the Athanasiou loss, Givani Smith has been recalled from the Grand Rapids Griffins. Smith played five games for Detroit back in late October-mid November. His quick stint in the big leagues ended with injury and he has since been back with the Griffins.

Above is his game-by-game breakdown since returning to the AHL.

San Jose Sharks

Even with the Sharks rather old lineup, it’s still quite surprising they’ve struggled as much as they’ve had this season. Barclay Goodrow playing second-line center is a weak-spot, but the rest of the top-6 is comprised of proven players in the league. Logan Couture’s playoff brilliance over the decade earned him the captaincy once Joe Pavelski departed for Dallas. He, along with Tomas Hertl and Kevin Labanc form a solid top-line.

On defense, Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson patrolling the blue-line is as good as it gets. For over 75% of the game, they can deploy a high-end offensive D-man. That’s tough to match, and one that will give Detroit problems tonight.

Three Thoughts

1.) More of the same under Bougner

Due to the Sharks massive under-performance this season, head coach Pete DeBoer was relieved of his duties back on Dec. 11. Assistant coach Bob Bougner was named interim head coach for the remainder of the season and, so far, the results have just been more of the same.

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In the seven games since Bougner took over, the Sharks have only went 2-4-1 and continue to plummet down the standings. Over that time, they rank ninth last in goals-per-game (2.86), and dead-last in powerplay percentage (6.3%). The next closest in terms of powerplay percentage is the New York Rangers (11.5%). Over a full 5% worse than the second-to-last ranked team. The Red Wings penalty-kill shouldn’t get too much trouble in this one.

2.) Goaltending matchup

Jonathan Bernier has already been confirmed as the Detroit starter tonight. When these two teams met back on Nov. 16, Jimmy Howard got the start, so this will be a fresh opportunity for Bernier. In 24 games this season, Bernier has posted a somewhat poor .900 save percentage.

The Sharks starting goaltender has not been confirmed yet. If it is in fact Martin Jones, the Red Wings will have a huge advantage. Despite playing behind a solid defensive unit, Jones has recorded a terrible .891 save percentage in 29 games this season. After putting a sub .900 save percentage last year, seemingly falling off a cliff, it was clear Jones’ best days are well behind him.

3.) Athanasiou’s injury impact

The Athanasiou injury is killer to an already depleted Red Wings team. As mentioned in previous pregames, Filip Zadina’s workload is bound for an up-tick. No Mantha, no Athanasiou, and possibly no Filppula will essentially handcuff Jeff Blashill to play his prize prospect more than 15 minutes a night.

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I’d imagine Zadina will also move back up to the top powerplay unit. In a brief stint with the top-group a few weeks ago, he should fit right back in.