Sharks-Panthers Preview

BY foxsports • February 17, 2016

The top away team in the Western Conference is putting its road record on the line against one of the best teams in the East, though only one of them has lived up to those reputations lately.

The San Jose Sharks are showing no signs of slowing down entering their second stop on five-game road trip Thursday night, while the Florida Panthers' first three on a six-game homestand have been a struggle.

Tuesday's 4-2 win in Tampa Bay got the Sharks to 19-8-2 on the road a season after finishing 21-16-4, and all but one win in a 7-2-0 stretch in opponents' buildings has come by at least two goals.

"It's a good start," said Joe Thornton, who had two assists to give him three goals and six assists on a six-game point streak, as well as 34 points in his last 26 contests after opening the season with 16 in 29.

"For a passer, it's nice when the guys are finishing the way they are."

Marc-Edouard Vlasic added an assist to extend his point streak to eight and tie teammate Brent Burns for the longest in franchise history by a defenseman. Burns' ended last month.

Points and goals leader Joe Pavelski scored for the first time in seven games, and the penalty kill continued to thrive by improving to 19 for 21 in seven games this month. It all amounts to plenty of confidence in the San Jose dressing room with the Sharks (30-20-5) scoring 13 goals in their last three games as part of a 3-0-1 span.

"We kind of eliminated the neutral zone with the turnovers and took away a little bit of their speed," Pavelski said. "Guys made some plays at the right time. We got the saves as well."

Those came from Martin Jones, who's given up three goals with a .965 save percentage on a three-game winning streak.

He likely won't be up against Roberto Luongo, who has returned to practice after being hit in the neck by a puck but is expected to miss a second straight game. Al Montoya was in goal for Monday's 2-1 shootout win over Pittsburgh and has split his last four games with a 2.15 goals-against average and .931 save percentage.

He was also in goal as the clubs opened the season series with San Jose's 5-2 home win on Nov. 5, though the Panthers (33-18-6) have won seven of the last nine meetings.

The win over the Penguins followed losses to Nashville and St. Louis to start the homestand, which is part of a 2-3-1 span during which seven of the Atlantic Division leader's 13 goals came in one game. At home, Florida has gone 1-2-1 with six goals scored since an 11-1-0 run.

"I thought the four lines competed and battled hard against each line they played against," coach Gerard Gallant told the team's official website. "I really was happy with the way our guys battled. We didn't want to get in this little streak where we're losing games and we got embarrassed in the two this weekend. It was a big two points for us."

Florida's goal came from Nick Bjugstad, his first in nine games as he tries to catch up to last season's pace. The 23-year-old also converted in the shootout but has 10 goals through 42 contests after managing 24 in 72 a season ago.

"(His performance) was huge," Gallant said. "It's confidence. (Bjugstad) is one of those guys, when he gets confidence he's really good. He did some real good things tonight. He went down the wing, he was shooting pucks, he finished some checks. He keeps his game simple, he's really good."

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