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Avalanche-Sharks Preview @NHL

A rookie has helped the San Jose Sharks surge to within striking distance of first place in the Western Conference.

Ryane Clowe will try to help San Jose to its sixth win in seven games when it starts a three-game homestand at HP Pavilion on Monday against the Colorado Avalanche.

The Sharks (30-15-0) return to northern California after road wins over the bottom two teams in the Pacific Division with Clowe having a hand in each victory. He scored early in the third period of a 5-2 win over Los Angeles on Thursday, and had two goals and an assist in a 4-1 victory over Phoenix on Saturday.

"He's got good hands but more importantly he's working away from the puck and that's why we're giving him the opportunity," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said Saturday of the rookie right wing. "That's the first thing you've got to learn as a young player, getting the job done on your end."

Clowe has been placed on injured reserve four times this season, missing a total of 20 games with foot and groin injuries. He played just nine games from Nov. 9-29, averaging less than 10 minutes of ice time per game, and tallied just two goals and an assist in that span.

Now healthy again, Clowe is becoming another strong option on an offense featuring Joe Thornton, Jonathan Cheechoo and Patrick Marleau. In five games since Jan. 4, Clowe has averaged almost 14 minutes on the ice per game, and has eight goals and one assist while leading San Jose to a 4-1-0 record.

The Sharks' only loss in that stretch came when Clowe was held without a point in a 3-2 home loss to Edmonton on Wednesday.

Thanks in part to Clowe, the Sharks trail Western Conference-leading Anaheim by just eight points with two games in hand. After this contest, San Jose plays host to Phoenix and St. Louis before the All-Star break.

While a rookie has been carrying the Sharks lately, Colorado (22-19-3) continues to rely on a future Hall of Famer to defeat San Jose. Joe Sakic has five goals and six assists in a seven-game points streak against San Jose since being held without a point on Jan. 17, 2004, during a 2-1 loss in Denver.

The Avs have gone to shootouts in three of their last four games, including a 3-2 win over Anaheim on Saturday. Milan Hejduk scored the decisive goal in the fourth round, and Peter Budaj finished with 38 saves.

"He stole a point for them," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said of Budaj, who appears to have supplanted former Hart and Vezina Trophy winning goaltender Jose Theodore in net. "They worked hard and he was strong in the net."

Should Budaj start, he'll be looking to extend his career-best road winning streak to four games. During that streak, he's held Nashville, Minnesota and Anaheim to just six total goals.

Overall this season, Budaj is 13-9-2 with a 2.56 goals-against average. In his only career appearance against the Sharks, though, he gave up Alyn McCauley's game-winning goal with 4:13 to play in a 6-5 loss last March 19 in San Jose.

The Sharks and Avalanche have split two games this season, with each team winning on the road. Sakic has three goals and an assist for Colorado in the season series, while Thornton has two goals and two assists for San Jose.

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