After toying with their two most recent opponents, the San Jose Sharks should expect more of a challenge as they wind down their longest homestand of the season.
That begins Thursday night against the St. Louis Blues as the Sharks go for their fifth win in six games.
San Jose (42-20-7) enters this game having beaten the Dallas Stars on Sunday and Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday by a combined score of 9-2. Neither of those opponents is expected to play in the postseason.
The Blues (36-28-5) are fighting to stay in the playoff mix. They have a four-point lead over the Los Angeles Kings for the final Western Conference wild-card berth and are two points behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central Division.
A win over St. Louis would push the Sharks into a tie with the Chicago Blackhawks for the top spot in the West.
“We’ve got to keep our eye on the ball and that’s winning as many games as possible, make sure we’re playing the right way heading into the playoffs and tracking down the teams ahead of us,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said.
But San Jose has dropped both meetings vs. St. Louis this season, including a 4-0 defeat on Jan. 14 — its second straight shutout loss to the Blues at SAP Center. The Sharks haven’t scored on home ice against St. Louis since Joe Pavelski’s tally late in the first period on Jan. 3, 2015, a span of 161 minutes, 38 seconds.
The Sharks’ captain is currently playing his most productive hockey this season. The league’s reigning first star of the week scored twice against Buffalo, giving him seven goals and an assist in his last five games.
“In the short time I’ve known him, he cranks it up this time of year,” DeBoer said of Pavelski, who has helped the Sharks post an 11-2-1 record all-time against the Blues when he scores at least one point.
The recent surge has pushed Pavelski past Brent Burns for the team lead in goals scored. Pavelski needs two more to reach 30 for the fourth straight season and sixth time in 11 seasons.
Besides Pavelski, Joe Thornton has been red-hot for the Sharks with a goal and six assists during a five-game points streak. He also has been scorching against the Blues over the last 10 regular-season matchups, with five goals and 11 assists. Eleven of those points have come in just three games.
Thornton will also try to stick around for the entire game this time. In the most recent matchup in January, Thornton was ejected in the second period for spearing Paul Stastny in the midsection.
St. Louis heads north after falling 2-1 to the Ducks on Wednesday. Rookie Ivan Barbashev scored his first goal since Feb. 15.
With a playoff berth still unsecured, the Blues have to hope this isn’t the start of another downward trend. Since Mike Yeo took over as coach Feb. 1 for the fired Ken Hitchcock, the Blues have sandwiched winning streaks of six games and five games around a five-game skid.
“We’re in the fight of our lives, so our play has to show that desperation,” Yeo said.
Vladimir Tarasenko leads the Blues with 32 goals — four behind NHL leader Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins — and 61 points. However, Tarasenko has not fared well against San Jose, scoring two goals with six assists in 12 career games.
Players the Sharks’ defense will want to pay extra attention to are Alex Pietrangelo, who has 15 assists and 17 points in 21 meetings, and Alexander Steen, who has five goals and 11 assists in 19 games vs. San Jose.
Pietrangelo and Steen are tied for fifth on the club in scoring on the road, with 16 points, while Tarasenko has a team-high 33, including 13 goals.
Even with Wednesday’s loss, the Blues’ Jake Allen has surrendered just nine goals in his last six games, posting a 4-2-0 record with a shutout. Allen is 1-0-1 with a 2.87 goals-against average despite an .891 save percentage over two career starts in San Jose.
The first of backup Carter Hutton’s four shutouts this season came in January in San Jose. In his last four starts, Hutton has stopped 109 of 113 shots while going 3-0-1 with two shutouts.