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Surging Sharks host struggling Avs

by John Kreiser

AVALANCHE (41-26-7) at SHARKS (46-19-10)

Last 10 -- Colorado 5-4-1; San Jose 4-5-1

Season series -- These teams are meeting for the third time this season, but haven't seen each other since the Sharks won 3-1 at home on Oct. 30. They complete the season series next Sunday in Denver, where the Avs won 5-2 on Oct. 1

Big story -- Colorado would likely have been a lot better off if this game was scheduled a week ago, when the Sharks were dropping their sixth in a row. Since then, they've won three straight, including a 4-2 victory over Vancouver on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Avs have dropped to eighth in the West and are coming off a 6-2 whipping at Phoenix on Saturday.

Team Scope:

Avalanche -- Colorado is hanging on for dear life in the Western Conference playoff race, having dropped back to eighth, six points ahead of the struggling Calgary Flames -- the only team that appears to have any chance to catch the Avs.

Colorado was beaten soundly by the surging Coyotes, who scored five times against Craig Anderson before he was lifted.

"We're not playing well enough as a team right now and that's the bottom line," he said. "Yeah, I'd like a goal back here or there, but the bottom line is we can't be giving up 2-on-1s and 3-on-2s and expect to win hockey games."

Sharks -- San Jose appears to have found its groove again after two weeks of looking anything like a team good enough to finish first in the Western Conference. The Sharks have gone back to playing the kind of simple, effective hockey that put them on top in the Pacific Division for most of the season.

"Obviously, the little details mean a lot at this stage of the season," forward Patrick Marleau said. "We started doing that in the last three games and (we've) gotten results."

Who's hot -- Colorado's Paul Stastny has six goals in his last eight games. … Sharks forward Patrick Marleau is coming off a four-point night and has 80 points in 75 games. Goalie Evgeni Nabokov has won three consecutive starts, allowing only three goals.

Injury report -- Peter Mueller, who's had 15 points since coming over from Phoenix at the trade deadline, was scratched from Saturday's game with a hip injury. Defenseman Ryan Wilson (concussion) and forward Stephane Yelle (leg) have missed the last three games.… San Jose's No. 1 center, Joe Thornton, left Saturday's game after being hit by Vancouver's Alex Edler and crashing into the boards late in the second period. He didn't return, and coach Todd McLellan wouldn't say whether Thornton will be able to play.

Stat pack -- Nabokov appears to have righted himself after a post-Olympic swoon. Saturday's win was his 40th of the season, making him only the second goaltender in NHL history to reach 40 or more wins in three consecutive seasons (Martin Brodeur is the other).

Puck drop -- The Sharks are on a roll; the Avs are stumbling. Both teams figure to be a little weary after playing Saturday -- and if Thornton can't play, the Sharks may have some problems generating offense. It's a bigger game for the Avs, who have to arrest their slide before their playoff berth slips away.

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