On RIVALRY NIGHT, The Sharks (8-5-0, 4th Pacific) face what may be their toughest challenge so far this season as the franchise's HISTORIC RIVAL, the Tampa Bay Lightning (11-2-2, 1st Atlantic) come to town. The Bolts lead both the Atlantic division and the Eastern Conference, sit just one point back of the St. Louis Blues for top spot in the NHL, and are 7-2-1 in their past ten games. The Sharks past 10 games is similar, with a 7-3-0 record, and with two games in hand over all three teams ahead of them in the Pacific division.
This clash of the NHL's two hottest teams is very much a contest of strengths. While the Lightning boast the league's best offense, scoring an average of 3.87 goals per game, the Sharks sit second league-wide in goals allowed, at an average of 2.31 per game.
The return of top defensive dog Marc-Edouard Vlasic could not have come at a better time, as the Sharks will need all the help they can get shutting down Tampa's forwards. Captain Steven Stamkos paces the NHL in points (25), assists (18), and power play points (11), while winger Nikita Kucherov leads in goals (14). Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy similarly leads the NHL in wins (11-1-1) and is tied for ninth in save percentage (.924). Where only one Sharks player has double digit points (Logan Couture, 12), Tampa boasts seven.
The Sharks have been playing well recently, though, and look to extend their league leading four game winning streak. Goaltender and Anthony Perkins understudy Martin Jones is fresh off of third star of the week honors, and has allowed two or fewer goals in each of his last eight starts. Tonight marks the return of former Sharks prospect and San Francisco Bull Yanni Gourde, who has a goal in each of his last three games.
If anyone in this league can make that Tampa top line disappear, it's the invisibility cloak we call Marc-Edouard Vlasic. If he is back at 100%, this should be a walk in the park. Right, guys? Right...?
Joonas Donskoi -- Joe Thornton -- Joe Pavelski
Melker Karlsson -- Logan Couture -- Tomas Hertl
Timo Meier -- Chris Tierney -- Mikkel Boedker
Jannik Hansen -- Barclay Goodrow -- Joel Ward
Joakim Ryan -- Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic -- Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon -- Tim Heed
Scratched: Ryan Carpenter, Dylan DeMelo
Injured: Paul Martin (ankle)
Cruising along that benchmark parade route, Joe Thornton enters tonight's action with 1014 assists, and is two shy of tying Joe Sakic for 12th all time. With Kevin Labanc demoted to the AHL on Monday, Jannik Hansen will draw back into the lineup to hopefully create some of that Danish magic with his best best friend Mikkel Boedker.
Vladislav Namestnikov -- Steven Stamkos -- Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat -- Brayden Point -- Yanni Gourde
Chris Kunitz -- Tyler Johnson -- Ryan Callahan
Alex Killorn -- J.T. Brown
Victor Hedman -- Jake Dotchin
Mikhail Sergachev -- Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn -- Dan Girardi
Scratched: Andrej Sustr, Gabriel Dumont
Injured: Cedric Paquette (upper body)
Tampa is likely to play 11 forwards tonight, playing defenseman and consonant waster Slater Koekkoek as a seventh blue liner, so their lines may jumble quite a bit from shift to shift. Chris Kunitz is set to play his 900th NHL game, but the hole in his heart shaped like Sidney Crosby is an endless source of pain.
Where to watch
Stream: NHL.tv / NHL App
Radio: 98.5 KFOX / NHL App / Sharks App