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GAME DAY: San Jose

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

BLUE JACKETS (3-7-2) VS. SHARKS (7-2-2)



Only one team, the league-leading Chicago Blackhawks, was hotter out of the gate than the San Jose Sharks. The pundits all weighed in before the season began: are the Sharks too old to contend, do they have enough left in the tank? All it took was one week for the critics to be silenced and for the Sharks to go eight games before suffering a defeat.

Everyone has done their job, too, and this is a Sharks team that is battle-tested and has the tools to compete for a championship. Captain Joe Thornton is the anchor in the middle of the ice and he's got an experienced and talented supporting cast, buoyed by a red-hot start from streaky scorer Patrick Marleau, who has nine goals in his first 11 games (but none in the last six). Marleau began his 2013 season with four consecutive two-goal games, which if you're scoring at home, is the definition of "en fuego."

But after their fast start, the Sharks have stumbled a bit. They've lost four in a row (0-2-2 in that stretch) and have fallen on hard times offensively; San Jose has scored five goals in those four losses including a 1-0 shootout loss to Phoenix over the weekend. In the seven straight wins prior to that, the Sharks outscored opponents by a 29-12 margin -- which will usually help you win hockey games.

Tonight's game marks the beginning of a six-game road swing for the Sharks over the next 13 days, a trip that will take them to Columbus, Nashville, Chicago (twice), St. Louis and Dallas before returning to northern California. On this eleventh day of February, the Sharks look at the calendar knowing their next game at HP Pavilion won't come until the 26th. It's a huge road stretch for the Sharks in what figures to be a tight race in the Pacific Division.

The Sharks have four players (Marleau, Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture) operating at a point-per-game pace or better through the first 11 games, but offense hasn't been the whole story for coach Todd McLellan's team. San Jose leads the NHL in team goals-against (1.82 per game) and has the seventh-best offense (2.91 per game), so it's not hard to see why they're playing well and leading the Western Conference with a +12 goal differential.

- The 14 shots on goal allowed by the Blue Jackets on Sunday was just one more than the franchise record low of 13, set on Feb. 21, 2009 vs. Anaheim.

- Artem Anisimov led all Columbus players in face-off wins on Sunday with nine. Anisimov also finished the night tied for the team-high in shots on goal with five (Jack Johnson, Nick Foligno).

- Fedor Tyutin picked up his team-leading eighth assist and ninth point on Umberger’s even-strength marker in the third period vs. Edmonton.

- This is the first of three meetings between the Blue Jackets and Sharks this season. Their next meeting doesn't come until April 9 in Columbus.

Patrick Marleau

LW | #12

2013 STATS: 9-5-14, 11 GP

Once the captain of the Sharks, Marleau has made a career of being a timely goal-scorer and a guy that can light the lamp in bunches. He has done just that to open this season; Marleau recorded multi-goal games in the Sharks' first four outings of the season and it seemed like whatever he put on net was going in. The 33-year-old forward has scored 20-plus goals 11 times in his NHL career, and tallied a career-high 44 goals in 2009-10.

COLUMBUS: Cam Atkinson (lower body, IR); Adrian Aucoin (lower body, IR); John Moore (lower body)

SAN JOSE: no players on IR

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