Sharks-Maple Leafs Preview

The San Jose Sharks have an NHL-low three regulation losses, in

part because of how they’ve jumped on teams in the first

period.

They’ll try to continue that early game dominance as they go for

their sixth straight win Tuesday night against a Toronto Maple

Leafs team that’s dropped four in a row.

The Sharks (18-3-5) lead the league with 36 first-period goals

and have allowed 14. They didn’t follow that pattern Saturday in a

4-3 shootout win over Anaheim, trailing 1-0 after 20 minutes, but

scored three second-period goals to build a 3-1 lead.

Despite blowing that advantage in the third, Antti Niemi stopped

three shootout chances to give the Sharks their eighth win in nine

games.

Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Martin Havlat had goals for

San Jose, which completed a perfect five-game homestand.

“It’s good to win but we made a lot of mistakes,” Couture

said.

The Sharks haven’t made that many overall, though, as their 92

goals scored are among the most in the league and their 60 allowed

are among the fewest.

San Jose is in first place in the Pacific Division, emerging as

one of the top teams in a loaded Western Conference.

“It’s the division, it’s the conference,” coach Todd McLellan

told the team’s official website. “It’s that close. It’s got to be

exciting for hockey fans all over because there really isn’t

anybody that’s pulling away or a clear-cut favorite, and some

really important hard-fought games at this time of year.”

San Jose has built its gaudy record in part by dominating East

teams, going 7-1-2. It appears to have a good chance to pad that

mark during a four-game road trip that features three opponents

from that conference to start the stretch.

First up is Toronto, which the Sharks have beaten in five of the

past six meetings and is 0-2-2 in its last four overall. The Maple

Leafs (14-10-3) have scored two or fewer goals five times in the

previous six contests, going 1-3-2.

Toronto certainly wasn’t good in the first period its last time

out, falling behind 2-0 and eventually 4-0 in the second of a 4-2

road loss to Montreal on Saturday.

“We need to find our spark,” goaltender Jonathan Bernier said.

“We have to be excited to play, and we have to find a way to score

goals. That’s what we were doing at the start of the season.”

They were also killing penalties at the start of the season,

denying 46 of 53 opportunities (86.8 percent) in October. Toronto,

though, has allowed opponents to go 7 for 15 during its four-game

skid with at least one power-play goal given up in each

contest.

The Maple Leafs’ power play has gone 1 for 9 in that span.

Returning home after their three-game trip might help, as the

Leafs’ 31.6 percent home power-play mark is tops in the NHL.

San Jose’s Joe Thornton has recorded at least a point in 12 of

his last 13 games, with three goals and 13 assists in that

span.