After starting an Eastern Conference road trip out with a shootout win, the San Jose Sharks made their way down to South Beach. They need to be careful not to look at their visit with the Florida Panthers as a vacation Thursday, January 16.
The Sharks have shown they will get overconfident against bad teams. The Panthers are the fourth-worst team in the NHL—so bad their coach got fired. The reason why they are only 10-9-4 at home this season is clear from the pictured personnel examination—lack of talent.
However, Florida is a respectable 7-8-3 vs. Western Conference teams. They are capable of catching San Jose napping. They are also very much alive for the Stanley Cup playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Kings are just three points behind the Sharks in the Pacific Division standings. The division-leading Anaheim Ducks are 13 points ahead with just two more games played.
San Jose must take advantage of a soft spot in the schedule in the second of three games in a four-game stretch against teams with point percentages in the bottom half of the NHL. Coming out with two points here could decide home-ice advantage in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs in what is a tight race in the Western Conference.
Despite five injuries to the unit, the San Jose Sharks possess the better forwards until a fourth line made up of undeveloped or career reserve players. The Florida Panthers simply lack top-end forwards, especially on the offensive end where they are led by the mere 23 points of 18-year old phenom Aleksander Barkov.
Brian Campbell is a better player for the Florida Panthers than he was when he played for the San Jose Sharks. He leads a formidable blue line, but is not as good as Canadian Olympian Marc-Edouard Vlasic or maybe even Dan Boyle, who is just starting to show his age.
The margin for the Sharks only increases behind the elite players. Justin Braun leads a deep stable of solid blue-liners on a unit that is averaging over two points per night and might be the best in the NHL at blocking shots.
Antti Niemi has stoned his last three opponents, allowing just one goal in each game. He was also fantastic for all but the last two months of 2013, and seems is peaking while Tim Thomas is trying to work his way back to the peak of all seasons in 2010-11 despite being in his 40s.
The backups are similar, with the Florida Panthers relying on veterans and the San Jose Sharks having a younger but still better goalie.
As has been examined in almost every preview this season, the San Jose Sharks may possess the best top-to-bottom coaching staff in the world. While head coach Todd McLellan has had mixed results and has not gotten the team into the Stanley Cup finals, the Florida Panthers have an interim head coach and many others novices in their role.