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Sharks at Stars Preview: Shark takes Bishop

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You’ve never played chess with the shark piece? They’re new. It’s a millennial thing.

SAN JOSE, CA - DECEMBER 21: Justin Braun #61 of the San Jose Sharks clears the puck past Valeri Nichushkin #43 and through the legs of Tyler Seguin #91 of the Dallas Stars during the first period at SAP Center on December 21, 2013 in San Jose, California. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Once again, the San Jose Sharks (8-4-3, 1st Pacific) hit the road, this time for a short two-game jaunt through the Central Division. First up: your very own Dallas Stars (8-6-1, 4th Central). The Stars will be well rested tonight, hosting their first home game after a season long six-game road trip that ended a little worse than it started.

The Stars won three of the first four on the trip, then dropping back to back contests in Boston to the Bruins and in Columbus to the Blue Jackets, earning just one point out of the last two games. Dallas’ 4-1 loss in Columbus looked like a team at the end of a long road trip on the second night of back to back contests, and from their perspective, Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky picked an unfortunate night to return to form, stopping 27 of the Stars’ 28 shots. It was the Stars’ sixth straight loss to the Jackets, as Bob continued his stellar play at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Those sweet green boys will be eager to put that game behind them tonight, as they were on the back foot in Ohio for most of the evening. The Stars’ lone goal, a Jamie Benn tally on the power play, came on the second of consecutive Stars power plays, and meant little at that point in the evening.

The Sharks hit the road on a high, fresh off of a thrilling 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild at home. Marcus Sorensen led the team with a goal and three points, and the frustrating loss of a two goal lead in the third period became a distant memory after Barclay Goodrow’s game winner. A curious game in which the Wild were all perfect gentlemen and broke no rules and were therefore not called for a single penalty saw our fish friends break several streaks. Heading into that contest, the Sharks were on an eight-game perfect penalty kill streak, killing 21 penalties in a row in that span until Zach Parise made short work of the milestone in the second period. The Sharks ended Wild forward Mikael Granlund’s 10-game point streak, and the Wild in turn ended Logan Couture’s nine-game streak.

The Sharks’ win jumped them up to second in the division behind the surging Calgary Flames, then first when those Flames dropped their game to the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday.

Tyler Seguin, who leads the Texas club in points, has not scored a goal since game three against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and has only managed six assists in the 12 games since. A half point per game pace is nothing to sneeze at, but for a player like Segui,n who is relied upon to create offense for the Stars (and for his $9.8 million cap hit starting next season), that’s not enough. New head coach Jim Montgomery’s decision to experiment with splitting up the dynamic duo of Benn and Seguin seems to have been short lived, but we hope they don’t rekindle their magic of seasons past tonight.

Brent Burns leads the Sharks in points with 18 in 15 games, an absurd amount for a defensemen, and trails only Ottawa’s Thomas Chabot (yes, really) among blue liners in the league. While the Sharks deal with the possible continued absence of Tomas Hertl, the added firepower from the Sharks’ defensive corps will go a long way to keeping the team afloat. If only there were someone else on the Sharks’ blue line about whom I could write in regards to goal scoring... nope, drawing a blank.

Joe Thornton will make history tonight, but how much?

Tuesday’s win saw Joe Thornton score his 399th career goal in his 1499th career game. 400 goals is no small feat for anyone, let alone a legendary pass first play maker like our Jumbo, so a goal tonight would be a huge milestone. Goal or not, Thornton is playing in his 1500th career game, taking sole possession of 19th all time from Stars legend Mike Modano. Hitting that milestone in Dallas is probably not intentional, but we kind of like the poetry of it anyway.

What do the Sharks do with Martin Jones?

Another story line of Tuesday’s win was a familiar one: the Sharks outscoring Martin Jones. San Jose held a 3-1 lead heading into the third period, but that quickly evaporated on goals from Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba just over two minutes apart early in the frame. While Jones is 6-0-1 in his last seven starts, that doesn’t really tell the story of his struggles on the season so far. Jones’ .885 save percentage at 5-on-5 is second last in the league among goaltenders with at least five appearances, and his goals saved above average of -7.67 bests only St. Louis’ Jake Allen among all NHL net minders.

This may sound like a familiar refrain to Stars fans, who have had no small share of goaltending problems to go with powerful offenses over the past few years, but Sharks fans are likely to be understandably anxious about their starter’s performance this year.

Who will the Sharks face in net?

Similarly to our own predicament, the Stars have seen some subpar performances from their de facto starter, Benjamin “Been Jammin’” Bishop, and some strong performances from their back up, Anton Khudobin. Bishop is the man in Dallas, but Khudobin has stolen starting jobs for stretches before, in Boston and in Carolina, and his .955 even strength save percentage is nothing to sneeze at. If the Stars go with the hot hand tonight, San Jose could be in for a rough ride.

Bold prediction: Joe Thornton scores goals 400-405. That’s right, two hat tricks for the big fella.

The Sharks continue the trip tomorrow with a visit to the St. Louis Blues, and the Stars host the Nashville Predators on Saturday.