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Predators begin critical homestand against Sharks

by Brian Hunter

SHARKS (27-10-6) at PREDATORS (18-19-6)


Last 10: San Jose 7-3-0; Nashville 2-5-3

Season series: This is the second of three games between the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators. Viktor Stalberg had a goal and an assist to lead the Predators to a 3-2 win against the Sharks on Dec. 14 at Bridgestone Arena.

Big story: The Sharks are seven points behind both the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks in the race for the top seed in the Western Conference, but San Jose comes off a 3-2 shootout win in Chicago on Sunday that serves notice it can play with the NHL's best. Unfortunately they'll have to move forward without forward Logan Couture, who is set to undergo surgery Wednesday on an upper-body injury. A timetable on his return won't be known until after the procedure.

Team Scope:

Sharks: Only the Washington Capitals, with eight, have won more shootouts this season than San Jose. The Sharks tied the Capitals by going to the penalty-shot tiebreaker for the 12th time Sunday, the most in the League, and improved to 7-5 after Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski scored while Alex Stalock denied both attempts by the Blackhawks.

Stalock, making just his 10th appearance of the season and 13th career, had been solid throughout with 33 saves. He relieved Antti Niemi midway through a 4-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.

"Al's been good," Pavelski said in the San Jose Mercury News. "He comes in on those back-to-back nights, and that's not easy. He's played well when he comes in, and you've got to give him a lot of credit."

Predators: This is the start of a five-game homestand for Nashville, which plays seven of its next eight on home ice. The Predators need to turn around a frustrating string of one-goal losses to begin the new year, as they went 0-1-2 on a three-game road trip.

Patric Hornqvist pulled the Predators into a tie with the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday with a power-play goal at 6:46 of the third period, but a late score by Jeff Skinner against Carter Hutton sent them to a 2-1 defeat.

"We played well," captain Shea Weber said in the Tennessean. "Did some good things, got some opportunities. Their goaltender played very well and gave them a chance, and ultimately helped them win."

Who's hot: Sharks forward Brent Burns has six goals in his past 10 games. His 14 for the season are three off his career high set in 2010-11 for the Minnesota Wild. Joe Thornton has 12 assists during an eight-game point streak. … Mike Fisher (four goals, six assists) and Hornqvist (two goals, four assists) have five-game point streaks for the Predators. Weber has one goal and four assists during a three-game point streak.

Injury report: In addition to Couture being out, San Jose forward Tyler Kennedy (flu-like symptoms) is day-to-day. Forwards Raffi Torres (knee), Adam Burish (lower body), Tomas Hertl (knee), Tommy Wingels (upper body) and Marty Havlat (lower body) are on injured reserve. … Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne (hip) is on injured reserve.

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