San Jose embarks on its five-game road trip today with a stop in Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets. The game starts at 4pm Pacific Standard Time.
So far, the home team has won all three games, but two have been very close.
The Sharks won the first meeting 5-2, although that score is deceptive: San Jose was at one point losing 2-1 in the second period. The Sharks did not pull away until the third period, when Patrick Marleau got a short-handed goal (the Sharks’ second of the night) and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic scored his first of the year about three minutes later.
In the second game in San Jose, Columbus out-played the Sharks but Evgeni Nabokov stole the game, 3-2. In the last match-up, the Sharks lost in overtime 2-1 the night before their infamous 6-0 loss in Detroit.
San Jose may have the similar advantage to what Detroit had in that game; playing a tired team. Columbus is coming off a tough loss Friday night, 4-1, to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Moreover, uber-rookie goaltender Steve Mason is battling mononucleosis. That means he may play at less than 100 percent, Wade Dubliewicz may play a second straight night, or the Sharks may face someone who is not a legitimate NHL-calibre goalie.
This is a game the Sharks must win. Not because they will need it to win the division, which is for all intents and purposes already won. Not because they will need the two points to stay ahead of the Red Wings for the best record in the West when they currently hold a three and a half game lead over their rivals, who have now lost Tomas Holmstrom for 3-5 weeks.
But it is essential that a team that expects to win the Stanley Cup be able to beat any teams that are not definite locks for the playoffs when there are environmental advantages. The Sharks have nine of their remaining thirteen February games on the road, and their home ice advantage is waning: San Jose can prove this month that it is playoff ready.
Notes: Douglas Murray only had about five minutes of ice time on Thursday night, and did not play at all in third period. However, there is no news on the team website or in the San Jose Mercury News about an injury, so expect him to be back in the lineup.
Sharks defenceman Brad Lukowich (sports hernia) and forwards Torrey Mitchell (leg) and Jeremy Roenick (shoulder) are still listed as out for Saturday’s game. Columbus lists goalie Pascal Leclaire (ankle) and forwards Jiri Novotny (back) and Derick Brassard (shoulder) as out, as well.
Joe Thornton did a conference call with the NHL, and the interview can be seen on the team website.