There aren't many teams who can relate to the degree of significant forward injuries the Sharks have suffered through this season but the Tampa Bay Lightning, despite having avoided the quantity of infirmary-occupiers San Jose currently sports, has certainly had comparable injury woes in terms of quality. Steven Stamkos, a top-ten forward in the NHL by anyone's estimation, will miss his 32nd consecutive game with a broken tibia when the Sharks and Bolts face off in Tampa today for a rare Saturday morning puck-drop. Stamkos is skating again (as is the Sharks' Couture) but it's a testament to the organizational depth of these teams that they've managed to remain near the top of their respective divisions even in the absence of key personnel.
Tampa Bay is one of the better puck possession teams in the East and they've received tremendous goaltending from a guy who some felt was a notable omission on the Team USA roster in Ben Bishop. An unquestionable Olympic snub was Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman, who's in the midst of a Norris-worthy campaign for the Bolts. And, of course, there's ageless wonder Martin St. Louis (who also probably deserves to be Sochi-bound - playing for a team in Florida has its disadvantages) leading the charge up front in Stamkos' stead.
For the Sharks, this game closes out their three-game Eastern Conference road trip, after which they'll finish the month playing five of six games against Calgary (twice!), Edmonton, Winnipeg and Minnesota. That's not exactly a murderer's row and I don't think it's unreasonable to expect the Ducks' pace to slow a bit going forward. Many have written off the Sharks' division title chances but with a fairly easy schedule (save games against L.A. and Chicago) prior to the Olympic break and injured forwards slowly healing (Marty Havlat was taken off injured reserve on Thursday), they could make a run at first place yet. It starts with two points against a good Lightning team this morning.
|30-12-6, 66 points
||28-15-5, 61 points|
|2nd in Pacific
||2nd in Atlantic