AVALANCHE (10-1-2) at SHARKS (8-4-1)
Avalanche 8-0-2; Sharks 7-2-1
This is the second of four meetings between the clubs this season and a rematch of Colorado's season-opening 5-2 win in Denver when Wojtek Wolski scored twice and Craig Anderson stopped 38 of 40 shots for the win. Patrick Marleau
had both of the Sharks' goals.
The two hottest teams in the West go head to head in the Shark Tank. Colorado is also the top team in the NHL while the Sharks have won three straight to climb back up the standings. It's arguably the game of the night.
At what point do we stop marveling over the success this team is having and just maybe, perhaps even a snippet, start believing the Avs are this good? They came back from a 2-0 deficit to beat Calgary, 3-2, Wednesday for their fourth win in a row. Anderson is getting a boatload of deserved credit for his amazing start and a lot is being said of teenaged rookies Matt Duchene
and Ryan O'Reilly
, but perhaps overlooked is the stellar play of defensemen Kyle Quincey
and Scott Hannan. They are the Avs' leaders in ice time and have combined for 14 points and a plus-15 rating. Brett Clark and Adam Foote are also playing well, but it should be noted that the Avs have allowed the fourth most shots against per game (33.2) among all 30 NHL teams this season. Coach Joe Sacco isn't too concerned because a lot are coming from the outside.
"If Andy sees the shots from the outside, he's going to stop them," Sacco told the Denver Post. "A lot of this is managing the puck and making good decisions through the neutral zone with the puck. If we get it deep and not turn it over, we'll spend more time in their zone and increase our shot total and decrease our shots against."
Special teams has been key to the Sharks overall success this season as they were fifth in the NHL on the power play (27.8 percent) and eighth in penalty killing (82.7 percent) after Wednesday's 2-1 shootout win over L.A. The penalty-kill percentage is somewhat remarkable considering the Sharks, entering Thursday, were 29th in the NHL in penalty minutes (193) and were averaging 4.5 minors per game. They have been shorthanded 52 times, which is four times per game, but they have cut that down to 2.8 over their last six games and have gone 5-1-0. They started the season 3-3-1 and were giving up five power-play chances per game.
Pointing to the obvious, Anderson has been absolutely sizzling all season. He has allowed three goals against on 106 shots over his last 180 minutes. Wojtek Wolski has three goals in the last two games and four in the last four. He leads the Avs with eight. Paul Stastny
has seven points in the last four games, including at least one in each. O'Reilly has points in eight of his last nine games. For the Sharks, Patrick Marleau
scored his 10th goal of the season Wednesday and his third in the last three games. He's tied with Joe Thornton
for the team lead in points (17). Dan Boyle
, who has been playing with a thumb injury all season, is on a six-game point streak (1-6-7).
The Avalanche are banged up and still winning. Forwards Darcy Tucker (concussion) and Cody McLeod
(eye) as well as defensemen Ruslan Salei (back) and John-Michael Liles (shoulder) are on injured reserve. Center Matt Hendricks has missed the last two games with a groin injury and winger T.J. Galiardi missed half of Wednesday's game with an apparent ankle injury. Defenseman Tom Preissing (knee) is also out. However, goalie Peter Budaj, who was out with the H1N1 virus, could be back tonight and may even start for the first time all season.
Meanwhile, the Sharks have their own injuries to deal with. Forwards Devin Setoguchi and Ryan Vesce have missed the last two games with lower body injuries. Joe Pavelski
and Torrey Mitchell
are both on IR, but skating.
Anderson needs five wins to match his previous career high for a season. He had 15 wins in 31 games for the Florida Panthers last season and prior to that had never won more than eight games in a season. If Anderson plays tonight he'll have a chance to set a new franchise record for wins in a month. Budaj and Dan Bouchard (Quebec Nordiques, 1981) share it with 10. He already has the franchise record for wins in October. Colorado had 10 points in October last season. It already has 22 this season. It's the franchise's best start since moving to Denver.
After scoring a career-high 22 goals last season, Sharks winger Ryane Clowe
is scoreless through 13 games this season. However, Clowe contributed Wednesday night with the shootout winner, using his backhand to beat Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, who was frozen on the play.
"We've tried taking ice time away from him. We've tried playing him with the top players. We've had talks with him," Sharks coach Todd McLellan told the San Jose Mercury News. "I felt deep into the shootout this was an opportunity to try something else. He should feel pretty good about himself ending it, and maybe this'll be the trigger that gets him going."
-- Dan Rosen, NHL.com