Maple Leafs-Sharks Preview
The San Jose Sharks gained on the Pacific Division leaders after beating one of the Atlantic’s top teams over the weekend.
They have a chance to climb even closer thanks to the surging Toronto Maple Leafs.
With both clubs looking to stay hot, San Jose tries to continue its recent success against visiting Toronto on Tuesday night.
Tommy Wingels scored twice and Logan Couture had a goal and two assists as the Sharks (41-17-7) cruised to a 4-0 win over Montreal on Saturday. They suddenly find themselves four points behind first-place Anaheim after Toronto beat the Ducks 3-1 on Monday.
"We wanted to win our division. That was one of our goals from the start of the year and we’re close," Couture, whose team is 6-1-1 over its last eight, told the NHL’s official website. "We’ve got a couple games with Anaheim left before the season ends, but we’ve just got to continue to win. We’ve got Toronto coming in on Tuesday and that’s going to be another big one for us."
San Jose has taken six of seven from the Maple Leafs (35-23-8) after winning 4-2 in Toronto on Dec. 3. Sharks captain Joe Thornton scored that night, giving him two goals and 12 assists during an eight-game point streak against the Leafs.
Another victory could be harder to come by against a Toronto team that’s gone 14-3-3 since Jan. 12. Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak each recorded a goal and two assists Monday as Toronto moved into second place in the Atlantic, passing the Canadiens.
The Leafs have won three in a row.
"There’s satisfaction when you beat your former hockey club," coach Randy Carlyle said following his first trip back to Anaheim since getting fired in 2011. "I’m not going to hide that fact. I feel good about it. But, again, now our focus is not what we did tonight. Our focus is what we have (Tuesday) and we’ve got a real tough game."
Bozak’s goal snapped Toronto’s 0-for-18 drought on the power play.
"That was nice," Bozak said. "It hasn’t been going so well as of late, so it was nice to get one. Hopefully that’s something that turns it around. Sometimes it’s just one little thing, one little break that changes things. Hopefully, that’s it."
Jonathan Bernier stayed hot with 43 saves against the Ducks, improving to 12-2-2 with a 2.62 goals-against average in his last 16 starts.
The Leafs, who opened a five-game trip Monday, visit Los Angeles next.
"That was our main focus coming here," Bernier said of the California swing. "We know it’s a tough building. Well, (Tuesday) and L.A. (on Thursday) as well. They’re all tough buildings. But we proved to ourselves that we can compete against any team in this league."
Kessel continues to frustrate opposing defenses, posting NHL bests of 14 goals and 21 assists in 21 games since Jan. 10. His 35 points over that stretch are 10 more than the next closest players.
The Leafs are 30-6-6 when Kessel records at least one point compared to 5-17-2 when he doesn’t. He has three goals and two assists in his last four games against the Sharks.
Niemi, third in the NHL with 31 wins, has stopped 57 of 60 shots in posting back-to-back victories over the Leafs.
Bernier went 1-2-0 with a 3.57 GAA in four games against San Jose while with Los Angeles.
The Sharks are a Western Conference-best 24-4-4 at home.