Vesa Toskala and Evgeni Nabokov have led the San Jose Sharks to one of the NHL's best records. Now, the goaltending duo has the Sharks on the verge of a franchise first.
San Jose goes for its third straight shutout for the first time in team history on Wednesday when it visits the Minnesota Wild in the third meeting between the teams in 2006-07.
Toskala and Nabokov have alternated starts this season and if the Sharks (18-7-0) continue that trend, Nabokov will get the nod against the Wild (13-9-1). He is 6-5 with a 2.31 goals-against average this season and tied for the NHL lead with three shutouts, including a 2-0 win over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.
Toskala followed his counterpart's lead on Tuesday, making 29 saves in a 2-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues. It was his second shutout of the season and improved his record to 12-2 with a 1.98 GAA.
"I don't know if there's any pressure on the other goalie if his partner's had a shutout," Sharks coach Rick Wilson said. "But it's nice that Vesa gets rewarded because he's played really well for us all year."
Nabokov has been between the pipes for both games against the Wild this season, posting one win, one loss and a 2.50 GAA.
On offense, a couple of young players stepped up Tuesday for the Sharks. Second-year right wing Ryane Clowe and rookie Joe Pavelski each scored, giving San Jose its third straight win and ninth in the last 11 games.
After opening their four-game road trip with a victory, the Sharks will face a Minnesota club that's been tough to beat at home. The Wild are 9-1-1 at the Xcel Energy Center and could use a boost there after losing four of their last five games overall.
Minnesota allowed three unanswered goals in the final period of Saturday's 5-3 loss to Columbus. Pascal Dupuis, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Stephane Veilleux scored for the Wild, who were outshot 33-22.
"Nobody was going, nobody. There was not one line or one player better than the others," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "There were mistakes that you just can't make."
Manny Fernandez, Minnesota's No. 1 goalie, took the loss after replacing backup Niklas Backstrom and allowing three goals on 23 shots. Fernandez has been in goal for both games against the Sharks and is 8-4 with a 1.97 GAA in 13 career games versus San Jose, which is tied for his most wins against any opponent.
Minnesota has converted 27.7 percent (18 of 65) of its power-play opportunities at home while thwarting 92.7 percent (51 of 55) of opponent chances. The Wild may have trouble continuing that success against the Sharks, who have won three of their last four visits to Minnesota.
Both teams continue to cope with injuries. San Jose put left wing Milan Michalek on injured reserve Monday with an arm injury. The move is retroactive to Nov. 22, so the Sharks' second-leading goal-scorer could return as early as Wednesday. The team has also been without Jonathan Cheechoo, the NHL's leader with 56 goals last season, for five straight games because of a leg injury.
Minnesota left wing Marian Gaborik has been sidelined for 16 games because of a groin injury, but skated with the team both Monday and Tuesday. The Wild are being cautious with Gaborik, who has struggled with this injury in the past.