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Surging Sharks invade Columbus

by John Kreiser /
SHARKS (29-19-6) at BLUE JACKETS (26-22-5)

TV – CSN-California (HD); FSN-Ohio (HD)

Last 10 – San Jose 8-1-1; Columbus 6-2-2

Season series - It’s the fourth and final meeting of the season, but the Sharks’ first visit to Nationwide Arena. The teams split two games in Stockholm to start the season, and the Jackets won 3-0 at San Jose on Nov. 20.

Big story – Could this be the Sharks team that was expected to challenge for the Stanley Cup? Sure looks like it – San Jose comes to Columbus on a four-game winning streak since the All-Star Game, including 2-0 wins at Boston on Saturday and Washington on Tuesday. The Sharks have climbed to fourth in the West with 64 points. The Jackets are almost as hot – they appeared to be on the verge of falling out of the playoffs a week ago, but have won their last three, including a 4-1 win at Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Team Scope:

Sharks – Not only is San Jose rookie Logan Couture scoring lots of goals, he’s getting them at big times as well. Couture scored his 24th goal, tops among all rookies, to break a scoreless tie with 8:05 remaining in regulation to break a scoreless tie in Tuesday’s 2-0 win at Washington. Couture passed Alex Ovechkin for the League lead with eight game-winning goals and set an NHL rookie record with seven game-winners on the road.

“It's getting to the point where you don't want to call him a rookie any more," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said, "because he plays big minutes, he's scoring huge goals. For a guy that just came off the flu, he was very effective."

Blue Jackets – Revenge is sweet – as the Jackets found out on Tuesday. Pittsburgh came to Nationwide Arena on Dec. 4, scored five times in the first period and embarrassed Columbus 7-2. But with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out for the return match, the Blue Jackets went into Pittsburgh on Tuesday and shut down the Pens in a 4-1 win, their fourth in a row on the road.

The Jackets hadn’t forgotten that game.

"I was frustrated after that. That was embarrassing, especially for myself, people watching it back home, and to see our team represented that way," center R.J. Umberger said. "Tonight, it was in the back of our minds but, more than anything, the two points were first in our mind."

Who’s hot – Sharks goalie Antti Niemi has back-to-back shutouts for the first time in his career and is 7-0-1 in his last eight decisions. Couture has points in six consecutive games. … Jackets goaltender Steve Mason has won his last three starts, allowing just four goals on 94 shots. Rick Nash has 9 goals in his last 10 games against San Jose.

Injury report – San Jose goalie forward Torrey Mitchell is still on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. Goaltender Antero Niittymaki (lower body) returned Tuesday and backed up Niemi. … Blue Jackets defenseman Rostislav Klesla is out with a lower-body injury, and forward Ethan Moreau (broken ribs) is skating again.

Stat pack – The Sharks are second in the NHL with an average of 33.8 shots on goal per game, while allowing just 28.6. The Jackets are in the middle of the pack both ways – they average exactly 30 shots on goal for and 30 against per game.

Puck drop – So what does a professional hockey team do with a rare day off in Washington? If you’re the Sharks, you spent Monday at the National Archives. About half the players, along with some coaches and trainers, took a behind-the-scenes tour from archivist David Ferriero, whose second cousin, Benn, plays for the Sharks – or he did, until being sent to the AHL Worcester Sharks on Sunday, one day before the trip.

Why a museum trip?

"It's a form of team-building," coach Todd McLellan told the Washington Post.

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