Preview: Blue Jackets vs. Sharks

By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN
STATS Senior Writer

(AP) — The San Jose Sharks were happy to see their slumbering attack wake up after two straight losses. It’s almost never been dormant when the Columbus Blue Jackets come to town.

The Sharks look to win their 11th straight home game against the Blue Jackets on Saturday night in the teams’ final matchup of the season.

San Jose (41-14-9) lost 3-1 at Buffalo before the Olympic break and returned with a 4-3 defeat to New Jersey on Tuesday, finishing with 20 shots – a season low at home. Leading goal scorers Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley extended their droughts without scoring to six and five games, respectively.

They got back on track when Marleau had a short-handed goal and assisted on a power-play tally by Heatley in Thursday’s 4-3 home win over Montreal.

The Sharks have a 10-point cushion atop the Pacific Division over Phoenix.

“We talked about our team not playing very hard on the offensive side of the puck, protecting it, getting second chances,” coach Todd McLellan said. “They responded so they passed that test. Now what will do on Saturday against Columbus is the big question.”

It shouldn’t be too big a question since Columbus (25-28-11) has never won in regulation at HP Pavilion. The Blue Jackets dropped their first six visits, won 3-2 in overtime Jan. 8, 2004, and have lost the last 10 games at San Jose, where they have been outscored 69-28 all-time.

That includes a 6-3 loss in the Sharks’ home opener Oct. 8 as Heatley had a hat trick in his first game in front of his new fans. The teams have since met twice in Columbus, with San Jose winning 3-2 in a shootout Nov. 4 and Steve Mason making 40 saves in a 3-0 victory for the Blue Jackets on Feb. 10.

The Sharks made better use of their 40 shots on goal Thursday, and Manny Malhotra scored the game-winner with less than 5 minutes remaining.

“That was definitely one of our focuses tonight, getting a lot of shots,” said Malhotra, who played for the Blue Jackets the previous four seasons.

Columbus is starting a three-game West Coast trip after making a series of deals in recent days with the future in mind. The last-place club dealt wingers Fredrik Modin to Los Angeles and Raffi Torres to Buffalo while shipping defensemen Milan Jurcina to Washington and Mathieu Roy to Florida.

The Blue Jackets made the playoffs for the first time in 2008-09 before this season’s poor first half cost coach Ken Hitchcock his job Feb. 3.

“It’s tough to win in this league on a consistent basis,” general manager Scott Howson said. “It’s tough to pinpoint one thing (that went wrong). At the end of the day, we just didn’t get the job done.”

Columbus won its first three games under interim coach Claude Noel before losing the next three, although one was in a shootout and one in overtime. The Blue Jackets blew a two-goal lead in Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime home loss to Vancouver.