The San Jose Sharks are one of the league’s hottest teams and could very soon be alone atop the Pacific Division.
All that’s standing in their way is a New York Islanders team that is among the NHL’s worst and missing several key players.
Seeking a fifth straight win, the Sharks look to avenge a loss to the Islanders earlier this season when the teams meet Friday night at Nassau Coliseum.
San Jose’s surge continued with a 4-3 shootout victory over Columbus on Thursday in the opener of a three-game trip. Patrick Marleau scored twice and Joe Pavelski had the lone shootout goal to help the Sharks (43-17-7) improve to 8-1-1 in their last 10.
The victory moved San Jose into a tie with Anaheim in the division, though the Ducks have one game in hand.
”It feels good to be right up there,” Marleau said. ”It’s not going to be easy the rest of the season.”
Backup Alex Stalock had another strong performance with 35 saves, denying all three attempts in the tiebreaker. He is 4-0-1 in his last five starts, but likely will give way to Antti Niemi, who is 3-0-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average in his past three.
Marleau had his first multi-goal game of the season, giving him six in nine contests. He has three goals and five assists during a six-game point streak against the Islanders.
Marleau’s second goal was a rare power-play tally for the Sharks, who entered Thursday 2 for 52 with the man advantage in the last 16 games.
”Hopefully, that’s the one that does it,” Marleau said about improving the team’s power-play production. ”It was on the rush but we’ll take it.”
Pavelski, who has a career-high 34 goals, notched an assist to match his personal best with 66 points. He’s scored five goals and set up seven others during an eight-game stretch.
San Jose has totaled 18 goals during its four-game win streak and that level of offense could be a big problem for an Islanders team that has allowed a league-worst 228 goals.
New York has surrendered 41 goals during a 1-7-1 skid at home, where it hasn’t won in regulation since Jan. 6.
After letting two-goal leads get away in the third periods of losses to Edmonton and Calgary, the Islanders (25-33-9) erased a three-goal deficit and matched a franchise record with seven third-period scores in Monday’s 7-4 win over Vancouver. Seven different players scored for New York, which went 2-1-1 on its Canadian road trip.
”A 3-0 deficit going into the third period, we were pretty deflated,” winger Matt Martin said. ”The coaches came in and made it clear we didn’t do enough in the second period and we didn’t play for one another, and if we didn’t pick up our game in the third period they’d have no problem taking guys out of the lineup.”
Already missing captain and leading scorer John Tavares and having traded top-line forward Thomas Vanek, the Islanders’ offense took another hit when Michael Grabner suffered a concussion Monday to sideline him indefinitely. That trio combined for 53 of the team’s 182 goals.
Center Johan Sundstrom was recalled from Bridgeport of the AHL on Thursday and is expected to make his NHL debut in this game.
Kevin Poulin stopped 46 shots through overtime and the Islanders ended a four-game series losing streak with a 3-2 shootout win at San Jose on Dec. 10. The Sharks are 6-1-0 with one tie in their last eight visits to Long Island.