BLUE JACKETS (13-30-6) at SHARKS (27-14-6)
TV: FS-O (HD), CSN-CA (HD)
Columbus 3-6-1; San Jose 5-3-2
This is the third of four meetings, and the third this month. San Jose won the first two -- both by 2-1 scores -- and the Sharks have prevailed in seven of the last 10 dating back to the 2009-10 season.
San Jose hopes to use a two-game home stint following the All-Star break to put some distance between itself and the rest of the Pacific Division. The Sharks currently sit third in the Western Conference on the strength of their divisional lead, but just two points separate them from seventh-place Los Angeles. Columbus, meanwhile, will look to snap a four-game losing streak.
Commissioner Gary Bettman's announcement Saturday that Columbus will host the 2013 NHL All-Star Game festivities brought the Blue Jackets organization something to be excited about. Not only does injury-riddled Columbus possess a League-low 32 points, but each of the other four teams in the Central Division would qualify for the postseason if it started tomorrow. The Jackets have continued their road woes -- they are 5-17-3 away from Nationwide Arena -- with three straight losses to start their current season-long, six-game road trip. After a 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay this past Tuesday, coach Todd Richards said he hoped a week off would help team morale.
"Without question, there's guys that have proven over the season that they show up every night," Richards said. "We need a group of 20 doing it. If we're missing two, three guys, it's tough for us to win games. So that was kind of my message to the guys as they go rest and relax, when they come back, we need everybody every single night."
A four-game winning streak to start 2012 suggested San Jose might recapture its rightful place in the West's top tier. And the Sharks still might. But two wins in their last six have them hanging on to the Pacific lead by a thread. A three-game road swing through Western Canada just before the break started poorly -- with losses to Vancouver, and Edmonton in a shootout -- but ended on a high note when the Sharks shut out Calgary, 1-0. The win was key not only in the standings but also for goalie Antti Niemi
, who recorded his third shutout of the season on the heels of consecutive four-goal games.
"That was a huge win for me personally," said the 28-year-old Finn. "You want to go into the break feeling pretty good and now I can."
“He's unbelievable. He plays that way every single night and gives us a chance to win every single night and most of the time, he's the first star," said winger Benn Ferriero
, who scored the lone goal. "That's just what he does and we've come to expect it from him."
Who's Hot: Logan Couture
, San Jose's lone All-Star selection, has 3 goals and 1 assist in his past three games.
For Columbus, Nikita Nikitin
(knee) and Jeff Carter
(knee) are out indefinitely. Mark Letestu
(hand) and James Wisniewski
(ankle) will be out through mid-February with respective injuries. Kristian Huselius
will miss 4-6 weeks with a groin injury. … In San Jose, Tommy Wingels
(upper body) and Ryane Clowe
(facial fracture) are on injured reserve, while Martin Havlat
should make his return from mid-December hamstring surgery in the near future.
If San Jose jumps out to an early lead, look for it to stick. Columbus is 1-18-1 when behind entering the third period, and Niemi is 3-1-0 with a 2.89 goals-against average and .906 save percentage lifetime against the Jackets.
"We're looking forward to bringing our All-Star celebration to Columbus. The Blue Jackets did a great job of hosting the NHL Draft in 2007, and I have no doubt they will raise the bar even higher when they welcome our All-Star celebration at Nationwide Arena next January." -- Bettman on the decision to name Columbus as host city for the 2013 All-Star Game