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Game #81 Preview: Winnipeg Jets at San Jose Sharks

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Your Winnipeg Jets take on a San Jose Sharks squad readying themselves for either Anaheim or Los Angeles in the first round.

Long ago are the days when San Jose was looking over its shoulder at teams giving chase, even at times fretting from the outside looking in. After 80 games, the Sharks have 96 points; the closest trailing divisional rival is Arizona with 77, and all the rest are Canadian teams, which should provide more than enough explanation.

The Sharks could still land home ice advantage in the first round, although with Los Angeles three points up and both clubs in possession of just two games remaining, it's simultaneously unlikely and largely out of San Jose's control. What's of greater and more realistic interest is whether SJ will first defeat LA or Anaheim on their road to Stanley Cup victory  (**snicker**).

Los Angeles has 99 points in 80 games, as opposed to Anaheim which also sits at 99 points but has a game in hand. Here's the kicker: these two California teams face each other tonight. It's times like this a team's regulation and overtime wins become especially important. Should the Kings and Ducks end up all squared up on points, LA holds an insurmountable 45-41 lead in ROW and would take the division.

Who would the Sharks rather face? For what it's worth, San Jose has a 1-3-0 record against Anaheim this season, versus 3-1-1 against LA. Either way, the "Capital of Silicon Valley" faces a steep mountain to climb.

Meanwhile, the Winnipeg Jets remain in the cluster of 3rd to 6th from the bottom, albeit on the latter end of this spectrum. As per NHL.com:

standings

If finishing 28th overall, the percentage chance of selecting 1st overall is 11.5%. A team's chances drop steadily, hitting 7.5% by time one hits 25th. Clayton Keller, anyone?

Beginning an hour and a half prior to Winnipeg taking on San Jose, there's another game worth watching tonight: the Vancouver Canucks vs Calgary Flames. Considering Vancouver next faces the Edmonton Oilers, it might be best if they win against Calgary, in overtime of course. It might also help if Winnipeg loses tonight and Saturday, rather than extending this two-game win streak to close out the season.

Catch the game tonight, 9:30 PM Central Time on CSN-CA, TSN3 and TSN 1290.

Jones v Reimer: Dawn of Uncertainty

Ondrej Pavelec gets the call tonight, in what's possibly if not probably his last game of the season. Among the 56 goaltenders with at least 20 games played, Pavelec's overall save percentage of .906% ranks 49th, while his .917 even strength save percentage rises to all of 42nd.

Save percentage isn't everything, but it seems fair to say these underwhelming numbers are simply another way of telling the same subpar story.

In the offseason, San Jose traded their 2016 1st round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly for a roll of the dice in Martin Jones. While Jones was coming off a down season in Los Angeles, he remained a highly touted youngster, one who might simply need to escape from out of Jonathan Quick's shadow.

For the most part, Jones has rewarded GM Doug Wilson's gamble. San Jose wouldn't be anywhere near a playoff spot without Jones' 36-22-4 record, while his .918 overall save percentage is tied with Jonathan Quick of all people. However, as the above tweet shows, it's been a relatively rough stretch for the Sharks starter lately, while newly acquired backup James Reimer has been soaring.

Loyalty would seem to dictate San Jose go with Martin Jones as their playoff starter, and it remains the safe bet. But should Jones falter early on, one wonders how long a leash he may actually have.

He's an animal!

After a stretch of just one point in eight games (during which Winnipeg went 2-4-2), Dustin Byfuglien is back to his point producing ways. Big Buff has four points in his last three games, bringing his total to 18 goals and 49 points. It'd be nice to see Byfuglien hit the 50 point mark for the fourth time in his career.

50 points is nothing to scoff at, but it pales in comparison to the incredible run of Brent Burns. Burns' 27 goals lead all NHL defencemen and his 47 assists come in third, behind only Erik Karlsson and Kris Letang. Expanding the scoring race beyond defencemen, his 74 points rank an impressive ninth, tied with Chicago's Artemi Panarin and Winnipeg's own Blake Wheeler.

This seems like a year where folks are either doubling down on Erik Karlsson, or intent upon giving Drew Doughty his lifetime achievement award. Within that context, Burns makes for a fun dark horse candidate to cheer for.

Patrick Marleau, third line centre

With just 24 goals and 46 points, it's been a relatively miserable season for Patrick Marleau. At the very least, he seems to be heating up of late, with four points in his last four games. That kind of production would be more than sufficient should he remain San Jose's third line centre.

Tomas Hertl, who the San Jose Sharks selected 17th overall in 2012, continues to progress in his development. He set an NHL career high in points a while back, and currently sits with 21 goals and 45 points while averaging 15:59 TOI.

And of course, 36-year-old captain Joe Thornton just keeps chugging along:

It's been an incredible season for Blake Wheeler overall, and with twelve points in his last nine games, it seems the only thing which will slow him down is the season's conclusion. Riding shotgun alongside Mark Scheifele, it's fair to wonder whether the 23-year-old has usurped Little as Wheeler's pivot. While the sample size is small, the chemistry certainly seems to be there.

Rounding out the first line trio is Nik(olaj) Ehlers, ensuring blazing speed down both wings. While 35 points in 70 games doesn't constitute a smashing success, we've seen flashes of brilliance from the Danish rookie. The part about which I'm happiest? Over the last five games, Ehlers has averaged 20:37 TOI, significantly more than his overall ATOI of 15:57.

While head coach Paul Maurice didn't exactly afford copious amounts of opportunity to all Jets youngsters **cough Andrew Copp cough**, it's hard to argue he didn't do right by Ehlers in his first NHL foray.

Stats, facts and automobiles provided by NHL.com, Natural Stat Trick, WAR On Ice, Hockey Analysis, Hockey Reference and The Hockey News. Thanks for reading!