|SJS||0||0||0||0||(0 - 0)||2|
|CBJ||0||0||0||0||(0 - 0)||3|
Two recent home losses aside, the San Jose Sharks are still the NHL's best team in their own building.
They're also among the best away from home, but the Western Conference's top road record is about to be severely tested.
The Sharks play their next five games and nine of 12 on the road, a stretch they'll kick off on Saturday night against the slumping Columbus Blue Jackets.
San Jose (36-7-6) rolled to a 25-3-2 start this season under rookie coach Todd McLellan, looking much like a Stanley Cup contender in the process.
The next six weeks have gone well, too, but the Sharks haven't been quite so invincible. They're 11-4-4 in that span, and have just a five-point cushion over Detroit for the West's top seed.
No team has been as dominant on its own ice as McLellan's, which is 23-2-3 at HP Pavilion. But with a five-game swing getting under way, the Sharks closed a home-heavy stretch looking considerably less impressive.
Chicago scored two power-play goals last Saturday to top San Jose 4-2 in the Shark Tank, then Carolina rebounded from a 3-1 deficit on Thursday to win 4-3 in a shootout.
The Sharks haven't lost three straight since a five-game skid from Feb. 12-20.
"I'd like to see individuals be a little more polished, a little more alert," McLellan said. "Individuals have to be a little bit better, but other than that, I don't feel all bad about how we played. They weren't in our end all that much. They had one or two chances, and they ended up in the net."
The Sharks have won their last three on the road en route to a 13-5-3 record.
San Jose's top line of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi has a lot to do with the team's success this season, but that unit hasn't produced much since the All-Star break. The trio has combined for just two assists in their last three games.
"It's our responsibility to score, and we've just got to get going," said Setoguchi, whose 21 goals trail only Marleau's 26. "But it's not just about scoring."
Even if the Sharks can't light up the scoreboard against Columbus (24-23-5), they'll still have a pretty good chance of leaving with a win. Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov is 16-4-1 with a 1.69 goals-against average in his career versus the Blue Jackets.
Nabokov has allowed two goals in each of the teams' meetings this season, as San Jose has gone 2-0-1 behind three goals and an assist from Marleau.
Columbus' biggest concern right now is its netminder, Steve Mason. A leading candidate for the Calder Trophy, the 20-year-old has been suffering from mononucleosis, an ailment that kept him home from the Jackets' game on Friday in Pittsburgh.
That left recently acquired Wade Dubielewicz to make his first start of the season, and he let in three goals on 27 shots in Columbus' 4-1 loss.
"We got down a goal and we were trying to force pucks to the middle and trying to get it all back in one play instead of just playing the game, playing our system and working from there," center Michael Peca said.
Mason, 1-1-0 with a 1.97 GAA against San Jose this season, is questionable to start Saturday.
Blue Jackets leading scorer Rick Nash (22 goals) hasn't found the back of the net in his last four games, and has one goal in his past 10 games versus the Sharks.
|Feb 07 '09||SJS 2 at CBJ 3 - OT||C. Backman|
|Dec 17 '08||SJS 1 at CBJ 2 - OT||R. Umberger|
|Dec 04 '08||CBJ 2 at SJS 3||J. Thornton|
|Oct 14 '08||CBJ 2 at SJS 5||P. Marleau|