The Detroit Red Wings have been the class of the Western Conference the last few seasons. The San Jose Sharks, however, are hoping to change that in 2008-09.
Off to one of the best starts in NHL history, the Sharks try for a third straight victory over the Red Wings when the conference's top two teams meet for the second time this season on Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena.
San Jose (25-3-3), which recently surpassed the 1929-30 Boston Bruins for the best start through 30 games in NHL history, suffered just its second loss in 14 games, falling 2-1 in overtime at Columbus on Wednesday. The Sharks are 12-0-2 during that span.
"It's funny. When you win some games and you come in to play against teams, they expect you to absolutely run over people," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, a former assistant under Mike Babcock in Detroit. "That's not the case. It's a hard league to win in and other teams are prepared for you."
The Sharks lead the NHL with 53 points, nine more than Detroit (20-6-4), which has recorded the most points in the West in each of the last four seasons while winning its fourth Stanley Cup since 1996-97 a season ago.
"(Todd's) doing a real good job and he's got a real hungry team," Babcock told the NHL's official Web site. "He's got his guys chomping and they've come of age."
The Sharks beat Detroit 4-2 at home on Oct. 30 and have won two of their last three at Joe Louis. The Central Division-leading Red Wings have dropped two of three overall, including a 3-2 loss to Colorado on Monday that snapped a five-game winning streak at home.
San Jose's loss at Columbus ended its five-game winning streak on the road, where the Sharks are 9-3-1. Devin Setoguchi had the lone goal for the Sharks, who were held to fewer than two goals for the third time this season.
"It's obviously a tough way to (lose). Maybe it's a little bit of karma," said Setoguchi, who tied Patrick Marleau for the team lead with 16 goals.
Setoguchi had two assists while Joe Pavelski and Jamie McGinn each had a goal with an assist against the Red Wings in October. Evgeni Nabokov made 25 saves in that contest to improve to 6-13-1 with a 3.48 goals-against average against Detroit.
"I thought (San Jose) did everything exactly like we try to do," Babcock said of the last meeting. "They just did it better."
Nabokov is likely to be back in net after making 30 saves Wednesday while falling to 17-2-2 with a 2.45 GAA.
Detroit hasn't lost consecutive games at home since opening the season there with a 0-1-1 mark.
Tomas Holmstrom and Marian Hossa each scored Monday for Detroit, which trailed 2-0 and was never able to recover.
"Normally we have a pretty professional group," Babcock said. "Right away we had a turnover and it ended up in our net, but I didn't think we played terrible."
Babcock knows his team can't afford the same start against San Jose, which is 15-2-2 when scoring first.
Hossa had one of his team-leading 16 goals against the Sharks in October, while Holmstrom added an assist in that contest and has two goals and an assist in his last two contests overall.
With Chris Osgood struggling with a 3.19 GAA as well as a groin injury, Ty Conklin is expected to get the start in net for Detroit. Conklin is 8-4-0 with a 2.75 GAA this season.
LW - SJS
G: 1 | A: 1
D - SJS
G: 0 | A: 2
RW - SJS
G: 1 | A: 1