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The Detroit Red Wings recently ended one of their worst slumps of the season. Now they'd like to make sure Evgeni Nabokov's struggles continue.
After ending a three-game losing streak, the Red Wings will likely get a chance to earn their third win this season against Nabokov and pin the star goaltender with his third straight defeat overall when they visit the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.
Detroit (34-10-4) beat Vancouver 3-2 in a shootout on Thursday night to snap a 0-2-1 skid, which matched the longest losing streak of the season for the team with the NHL's best record.
"It's a good thing to happen," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "You have to go through some tough times in your season to know how to respond to a little adversity, otherwise it comes to playoff time and you're not prepared for it. It's a battle every night."
Now the Red Wings will face one of the league's top goalies in Nabokov, but they haven't had much trouble against him this season and the veteran is struggling through his worst stretch of 2007-08.
Nabokov was in goal for each of San Jose's two games against Detroit this season, posting a 4.47 goals-against average en route to losing both contests. He is 0-5-1 with a 4.50 GAA in his last seven starts versus the Red Wings, failing to beat them since March 23, 2004.
Nabokov, who will represent the Western Conference in next weekend's All-Star game, started each of the first 43 games for the Sharks (25-14-7) before getting a night off Sunday at Anaheim. After rookie Thomas Gracie lost his NHL debut to the Ducks, Nabokov surrendered five goals Tuesday in Phoenix during one of his worst starts of the season.
He struggled again in a 4-2 loss to Dallas on Thursday night, allowing all four of the Stars' goals on 31 shots. It has been the most difficult stretch of what has otherwise been an outstanding season for Nabokov, who is 25-14-6 with five shutouts and a 2.10 GAA.
Detroit, meanwhile, has gotten outstanding play in net against San Jose over the teams' last eight meetings. The Red Wings have not allowed more than two goals in any of those contests, including last year's playoffs when Detroit won the teams' conference semifinal series in six games.
Chris Osgood has started both of the Red Wings' games against the Sharks this season, posting a 1.50 GAA. Dominik Hasek had a 1.45 GAA as he started all six games versus San Jose in the 2007 playoffs. Osgood and Hasek have split time for Detroit this season.
The Red Wings lead the league with 2.12 goals allowed per game. The Sharks are close to that mark, allowing 2.28 goals a contest, but they have yielded four goals or more in three straight games for the first time this season.
All three of those losses have been against Pacific Division rivals and the Sharks' latest defeat was at home, where they are 9-10-4.
"We're struggling with our style of play at home," San Jose defenseman Craig Rivet said. "Right now, it's a bit lackadaisical."
Being undermanned on defense hasn't helped. Sharks defenseman Kyle McLaren underwent minor arthroscopic surgery this week on his injured left knee, and won't return to the lineup until next week at the earliest. Alexei Semenov and Sandis Ozolinsh have replaced McLaren the past three games.