Blue Jackets-Sharks Preview
Suddenly, the San Jose Sharks have regained their momentum and first place in the Pacific Division.
A favorable schedule may keep it that way for at least one more game.
The Sharks will try to capitalize on a meeting with another woebegone opponent when they host the league-worst Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night.
San Jose (21-11-4) avoided a three-game slide and salvaged a home-and-home split with Vancouver after a 3-2 shootout victory on the road Monday. The Sharks then won 3-1 on Wednesday at Anaheim, beating the team with the second-fewest points in the NHL for just the first time in four tries.
"We were able to generate some momentum there, and we played a lot tighter game," said left wing Brad Winchester, who scored 27 seconds before Benn Ferriero gave San Jose the lead for good in the second period.
By beating the Ducks, the Sharks regained a one-point lead over Los Angeles in the Pacific, where four points separate the top four teams. Now, they will try to take advantage of the Blue Jackets (10-23-5), owners of the fewest points in the league and losers of seven of eight (1-6-1).
San Jose went 2-1-1 against Columbus last season. Both defeats came at home, but the Sharks are still 17-1-2 all-time versus the Blue Jackets at HP Pavilion.
Joe Thornton has five goals and 14 assists in 11 home games against the Jackets, being held without a point just twice. However, one of those times was a 3-0 loss in the last meeting in San Jose on Nov. 20, 2010, when Rick Nash scored all three goals.
Thornton also has eight points in his last nine games overall after setting up Joe Pavelski's team-leading 16th goal of the season Wednesday.
The Sharks are 14-4-2 when Pavelski has at least one point, versus a 7-7-2 mark when he doesn't. He had two assists in a 3-2 win at Columbus on Feb. 9.
Antti Niemi is likely to be back in net for his 14th consecutive start after making 26 saves against the Ducks. He's won six of his last eight games (6-1-1) with a 2.20 goals-against average, and won both of his meetings with the Blue Jackets last season while stopping 72 of 76 shots.
Columbus, 4-12-2 on the road, is hoping a four-day layoff can help it rebound from its latest disappointment, a 4-2 defeat to Washington on Saturday. The Blue Jackets surrendered all four of the goals in the third period, continuing a pattern of late-game futility. They've been outscored 52-26 in the final period this season.
"It's awfully frustrating and it's really disappointing," coach Scott Arniel said. "For 50 minutes of that game, we were picture perfect."
Nash has scored just four of his team-leading 12 goals on the road, but two came in Columbus' last road game, a 4-1 win at Dallas on Dec. 29.
The Blue Jackets captain also has six goals in his last five games at San Jose, including last season's hat trick.