San Jose hopes its six-game road trip, which begins this afternoon in Columbus, doesn't resemble The Road Trip From Hell of a year ago.
Projected Sharks Lineup
Projected Blue Jackets Lineup
The Sharks begin their first extended road trip of the season this afternoon in Columbus, having been forced out of the Tank by the annual tennis tournament it plays host to. As you'll regrettably recall, San Jose's SAP Open-induced swing through the Eastern Conference a year ago proved to be the epicenter of their tumble down the standings as they dropped seven of nine games outside the Pacific time zone in February 2012. The lengthy futility streak, which dragged out into March, was almost entirely the result of some brutal puck luck but the Sharks will likely need to be better than they've been for much of this young season to avoid similar disappointment this time around. Three of this trip's six games come against the conference's two best teams in Chicago and St. Louis, who the Sharks are a combined 2-6-1 against dating back to the start of 2011-12. But with Brent Burns back in the lineup and the team's third line finally being something other than a vortex of suck, that's a challenge the Sharks should be prepared to face.
The Blue Jackets come into this game 29th in the NHL—dead last in the Western Conference—and deservedly so. They've been horrendous at even-strength so far and, if it's even possible, look substantially worse than they even did prior to the trade deadline a year ago. Despite the pervasive malaise, there are some bright spots in Columbus. For example, they outshot the Edmonton Oilers 40-14 yesterday. Sure, Edmonton won that game 3-1, are still without Shawn Horcoff and were playing the second half of a back-to-back, but, um, baby steps. Additionally, while he isn't going to make Jackets fans forget about Rick Nash anytime soon, Brandon Dubinsky has been aces so far this season. Head coach Todd Richards has switched him back to center, thrust him into the toughest defensive situations and saddled him with mediocre linemates but the former Ranger has been one of the few Blue Jackets to consistently push play into the right end of the rink, although he has yet to couple that with much offense. Look for Dubinsky to be hard-matched against Joe Thornton's line while second-line center (and fellow Rick Nash trade return component) Artem Anisimov does battle with Logan Couture.
While the Sharks took three of four meetings against Columbus last season, they were routed in embarrassing fashion the last time they visited Nationwide Arena. San Jose will need to muster a better effort than that this afternoon to start their road trip off with two points that really should be in the bag. Go Sharks.