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Game #43 Preview: San Jose Sharks at Winnipeg Jets

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Your Winnipeg Jets (19-20-3) continue their three-game homestand against the rather unsteady San Jose Sharks (20-18-2). These 2015-16 Sharks are hard to figure out; the above image could be a great white shark, or it could be a manatee just wanting to say hi (what do you mean manatees don't have dorsal fins?).

At 5-4-1, San Jose's record over the last 10 games matches their season's overall mediocrity. Granted, in the Pacific Division, a mediocre record still puts one right in the playoff mix. While they're two points back of Vancouver for the 3rd seed, San Jose has also played three fewer games.

For what it's worth, the Sharks played yesterday in a 5-4 win over Calgary, one where they were heavily outshot 35-18. Maybe they're tired from being hemmed in their own zone, or perhaps they stood around and saved their strength for tonight.

While looking to avoid a three-game losing streak (a shootout loss is still a loss, in my humble opinion), the Jets are coming off successive efforts where they significantly outshot the opposition: 33-24 against Dallas last Thursday, and 44-29 versus Buffalo on Sunday. Now those are moral-but-not-actual victories I can get behind!

Catch the game tonight, 7:00 PM Central Time on CSN-CA, TSN3 and TSN 1290.

Keys to the Game: Winnipeg Jets

Ehlers is Danish for "cold as ice": When the Jets faced off against San Jose on January 2nd, Winnipeg came away with the 4-1 victory. It made for quite the collection of goalscorers: Drew Stafford scored a shortie, Joel Armia had his first NHL goal, and the ever-wonderful Mathieu Perreault popped in a beauty on the man advantage.

Nikolaj Ehlers provided icing on the cake, with this relatively impressive goal so far as empty-net tallies go:

There was hope Ehlers, who was riding a 13-game goalless drought, might be jumpstarted by his finally lighting the lamp. He has zero goals and one assist in the four games since. Overall, it's been a somewhat brutal five weeks for the 19-year-old:

It's easy to sympathize with Ehlers' plight. Over those 16 games, he's let fly 39 shots and scored once, a hilarious shooting percentage of just 2.56%. And with Scheifele out again due to injury, Ehlers finds himself on a line alongside Chris Thorburn (though they are centred by Mathieu Perreault). He's not exactly in the best position to end this drought and go on a tear, but he'll need to overcome bad luck and circumstances regardless. Bryan Little can't do everything forever.

The power play! It's alive!: It hasn't always felt like it, but Winnipeg's PP has found relative success over their last five games. They're 4/15 with the man advantage, a 26.7% conversion rate significantly better than the season's 15.4%. The PP has a long way to go before escaping the league's doldrums, however; only the Calgary Flames are worse.

It's worth noting that Drew Stafford and Mathieu Perreault are behind those four PP goals, with two apiece. Thank goodness then that Perreault seems fine going into tonight:

Come Helle or high water: As the above tweet also noted, Connor Hellebuyck is your likely starter. The Monster from Michigan will be looking to bounce back after allowing three goals against on Sunday, including this uncharacteristically egregious rebound:

While Pavelec's return isn't imminent, it's increasingly within sight. A slump at this point would better allow the organization to solve their coming goaltending headache by reassigning Helle to the Moose. However, so long as Hellebuyck maintains the level of excellence he's displayed thus far, his spot on the NHL roster is likely solidified.

At 4-2-1 and with a .952 SV% over his last seven games played, one bad rebound isn't exactly reason to panic.

Keys to the Game: San Jose Sharks

A glass half-empty: Winnipeg's power play has been showing signs of life lately. Regrettably, the same cannot be said about their penalty kill. It's about as consistently bad as it's been all year, operating at a clip of 75.0% over the last five games, versus 77.1% on the season.

At 6th overall and sporting a 21.2% conversion rate, San Jose on the man advantage is an exercise in lethality. Let's see what happens tonight when that 6th overall PP clashes against the 26th ranked PK. Winnipeg already got a taste back on January 2nd:

Mighty Joe Old: Joe Thornton may be 36-years-old, but the man is still a 1st line talent. On pace for 47 assists and 63 points, Jumbo Joe has kicked things up a notch lately, posting 15 points in his last 11 games. He'll inevitably cool down from that torrid pace, but the future Hall of Famer isn't going gently into that good night. He may be on the opposing team, but let's enjoy our remaining time with Thornton.

The Joestar Family: At 31, Joe Pavelski isn't exactly a spring chicken either, but that hasn't stopped him from posting 21 goals and 20 assists in 40 games. His 19.4 shooting percentage is a little high, but he's still a very likely candidate to pop in between 35-40 before the season's through. Skating beside Thornton will do that, but the Sharks captain is a talent in his own right.

Currently rounding out the 1st line is Joe Tomas Hertl. In his third season with San Jose, the 22-year-old has bounced around the line combinations here, there and everywhere. A productive Hertl helps alleviate the offensive burden from real hockey names such as Joonas Donskoi and Melker Karlsson, pushing them and others down the lineup where they might be better suited. For a Sharks squad looking to establish consistency, Hertl needs to seize this opportunity given.

Player to Boo Mercilessly

Brent Burns. The defenceman is both on pace for 80(!!!!) points and also in dire need of a Gillette sponsorship:

Somewhere, Lou Lamoriello has a mini-stroke every time he sees this display of facial hair. Boo the beard mercilessly.

Prediction

Winnipeg goes 1-3 on the power play and perfect on the penalty kill, but it isn't enough. Tomas Hertl scores two for the second time in three games. Ehlers scores zero.

Sharks win 3-2, despite being outshot nearly 2-1. The game is made infinitely better by muting the television and playing this video instead: