SHARKS (5-3-1) at LIGHTNING (2-3-2)
Season series -- It's the only meeting between the teams this season. That might be a good thing for the Lightning, who've lost the last four games against the Sharks while being outscored 17-4. San Jose hasn't lost to TampaBay since March 24, 2003, and won 3-0 last Oct. 25 in its most recent visit to the St. Pete Times Forum.
Big story -- After a sluggish start, the Sharks' offense has started to wake up. San Jose scored 11 goals in a Saturday-Monday sweep of the Rangers and Islanders and is now averaging 3.5 goals per game.
The Lightning are still waiting for their big gun to start firing. Vincent Lecavalier, a 53-goal scorer just two seasons ago, has yet to turn on the red light. Dating back to last season, he hasn't scored in 14 games. He'll skate between Martin St. Louis and rookie James Wright against the Sharks.
Sharks -- San Jose is halfway through a six-game Eastern trip that began with a dreadful 4-1 loss at Washington but perked up with the wins over the Rangers and Islanders. The win over the Rangers was especially satisfying, since the Sharks had to rally after spotting New York an early 2-0 lead.
"We showed a little bit of our character," goalie Evgeni Nabokov said. "We kept going and the power play came up big for us again. After that, they were a little bit on their heels and we took advantage even more."
The happiest Shark was 27-year-old rookie Ryan Vesce, a Long Island native who scored in both games.
Lightning -- The Bolts are off to another slow start and come into the game off back-to-back whippings at Ottawa (7-1) and Pittsburgh (4-1). They're hoping a return to the St. Pete Times Forum, where they're 2-0-1 this season, will help.
But coach Rick Tocchet won't be reluctant to make personnel changes if the problems continue.
"I'm sure there will be if these guys have something hanging over their heads," Tocchet said. "I think (general manager) Brian (Lawton) will do it."
Lawton and Tocchet had a brief closed-door meeting with the players after a 4-1 loss at Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Who's hot -- San Jose's Devin Setoguchi has three goals in the sweep of the Islanders and Rangers, while Patrick Marleau had a goal on Long Island and a goal and two assists against the Rangers. Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov passed the 500-game mark in a superb effort on the Island on Saturday night and has all five of the Sharks' wins this season.
Stat pack -- The Sharks have allowed the first goal in each of their last six games, though they're 4-1-1 in that stretch. San Jose's power play is 4-for-10 in the Sharks' last two games.
Puck drop -- The Lightning reportedly are leaning toward starting Mike Smith in goal. Smith is 0-2-2 with a 4.08 goals-against average and was in goal for the 7-1 disaster in Ottawa. Backup Antero Niittymaki is 2-1-0 with a 2.70 GAA and was in goal for the 4-1 loss at Pittsburgh. Nabokov, who has started all eight games, could get a rest here with games Saturday at Atlanta and Sunday at Philadelphia.
-John Kreiser, NHL.com
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