Remember when the Sharks used to play teams from the Western Conference? Me neither. It's another Eastern foe on the docket tonight as San Jose plays host to an original six club from Canada for the second time in four days. For the first time in over three years, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in town and serve as the final opponent the Sharks will face on this homestand before hitting the road for a swing through, you guessed it, the east coast.
Apart from the fact that both of these teams sit second in their respective divisions, they couldn't be any more different. The Sharks generate more shots on goal per game than any other team in the NHL. The Leafs allow more shots on goal per game than any other team in the NHL. With this game coming on the second half of a back-to-back for Toronto, after the Leafs did the Sharks a solid with a 3-1 win in Orange County last night, there's a legitimate chance San Jose could set a league record for shots in a game here unless they run away with the score early.
The Leafs rely almost solely on transition opportunities (it certainly doesn't hurt that Joe Pavelski's Olympic linemate Phil Kessel might be the best player in the league at both creating and capitalizing on those types of chances), which means Antti Niemi will need to stay sharp tonight; it's very possible he goes long stretches without seeing rubber but needs to make a particularly difficult stop when finally called upon. San Jose has had an unfortunate penchant for playing down to the level of some of the weaker Eastern teams (although it should obviously be noted, for all their fundamental flaws, Toronto isn't one of these as far as the standings go) but can't afford to tonight; recent doldrums for the Ducks have made surpassing them in the Pacific Division race a legitimate possibility. A win tonight would put the Sharks just two points behind Anaheim for first place. This is a pretty important game.
Brad Stuart remains out of the lineup with an upper-body injury while Marty Havlat, presumed to be a healthy scratch in wins over Pittsburgh and Montreal last week, has actually been, in a shocking turn of events, hurt although he skated Tuesday and could draw into the lineup over Raffi Torres who is nursing "general soreness" (which probably ought to be his nickname). After doing everything but score against the Penguins on Thursday, the Sharks power play did, well, absolutely nothing against the Canadiens. Toronto has been abysmal on the penalty kill this season so we'll hopefully see a performance from the Sharks' top unit that resembles their dominance in the Pittsburgh game except with, you know, goals.
|35-23-8, 78 points
||41-17-7, 89 points|
|2nd in Atlantic
||2nd in Pacific