A simple glance at their record would show that the San Jose Sharks are off to one of their customary solid starts, but the victories seem to be masking some of their issues.
New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is attempting to correct some of his club’s problems by tinkering with his lines.
San Jose continues its five-game East Coast swing as it looks to beat the Rangers for the third straight meeting Sunday evening.
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The Sharks (4-0-1) are accustomed to starting well out of the gates, winning their first seven in 2012 and six straight to open last season. They’ve earned nine of 10 possible points to begin this campaign after Saturday’s 4-2 win over New Jersey on the third stop of this trip.
Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski had a goal and two assists apiece, while Patrick Marleau had one of each. The Sharks, who begin their season playing 16 of their first 21 on the road, aren’t clicking, though.
They let a three-goal lead get trimmed to one before Joe Thornton’s empty netter. San Jose also let two three-goal leads slip away in a 6-5 shootout win over Washington on Tuesday before losing a third-period edge in Thursday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the New York Islanders.
”We’re winning games, but we’re not playing well,” Couture said. ”We end up scrambling around at the end. We’re giving up goals late.
"Wins in this league are hard to come by. We knew the schedule coming in and we knew it was going to be tough. It’s good to win on the road and it’s good to have this kind of start.”
San Jose swept last season’s series with the Rangers, as Tomas Hertl scored four goals in a 9-2 win Oct. 8, 2013, before Antti Niemi made 41 saves to make Couture’s goal stand up in a 1-0 victory March 16 at Madison Square Garden.
Niemi won his third straight start with 35 saves Saturday, meaning backup Alex Stalock could get his third start to complete the back-to-back set. Stalock is 1-0-1 with a 1.44 goals-against average, and if he does get the nod he’ll be facing a new-look Rangers lineup.
New York (2-3-0) ended a three-game skid with Thursday’s 2-1 shootout win over Carolina. Derick Brassard scored the tying goal in the third while centering a line with Mats Zuccarello and Martin St. Louis, who started that contest at center.
St. Louis is a natural wing but had been playing center in the absence of Derek Stepan, who is on long-term injured reserve with a broken left leg and isn’t eligible to return until Nov. 5.
”Sometimes you just got to shuffle the deck a little bit,” Vigneault said. ”Took (St. Louis) away from the center position there, tried a few different combinations. Sometimes you just got to see what can happen, and see what might click.”
Brassard’s line will remain the same against the Sharks, and Chris Mueller was recalled from the AHL on Friday and will center the fourth line. Rookie Kevin Hayes will move up to the first line to center Rick Nash and former Boston College teammate Chris Kreider.
"Playing with two guys like this is pretty unbelievable," Hayes said. "Certainly playing with Kreids again is obviously awesome. We succeeded in college so hopefully that carries over. I’m like a little kid in a candy store really to be able to be out there with those two."
Henrik Lundqvist will be back in net after making 30 saves Thursday. Lundqvist, 2-3-0 with a 2.42 GAA in five career starts against San Jose, had allowed six goals in each of his previous two outings.