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Pittsburgh vs. San Jose Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (5-2-1-11) vs. San Jose Sharks (7-2-0-14)

Where: HP Pavilion at San Jose
When: Tuesday, October 28, 10:30 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428 and DirecTV 659.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here


Finish Strong: The Penguins blew a two-goal third period lead against the New York Rangers. The team lost a 3-0 lead against the Washington Capitals and couldn’t make a 1-0 lead standup in the third period against New Jersey. Pittsburgh has started strong, scoring the first goal in six of its nine games, and will have to play a complete game in order to beat San Jose. 

Contain Thornton: Sharks alternate captain Joe Thornton has 43 points (14G-29A) in 31 career games against the Penguins. He’s the best setup man in the league and if unchecked, Thornton will add to those totals against Pittsburgh.

Score More Goals: Obvious, right? Well, both Sharks goalies (Evgeni Nabokov and Brian Boucher) are very stingy in net and the Sharks have a lot of explosive scorers. Pittsburgh can’t ask on Marc-Andre Fleury and Dany Sabourin to steal every game for them. They’ll have to bring their offensive best.
The San Jose Sharks have been dominant in the past four regular seasons - earning 108, 107, 99 and 104 points in the last four years - but have yet to play for a Stanley Cup. The farthest they’ve penetrated was into the Western Conference Final in 2004. After two consecutive second-round exits, general manager Doug Wilson decided the team needed a drastic recapitalization. First, he fired head coach Ron Wilson after five seasons behind the bench. Todd McLellan will take over after serving three seasons as an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings. He will be working with a different defensive unit than was in place last season. Doug Wilson overhauled half of his defensive corps by dumping Brian Campbell, Matt Carle and Craig Rivet. He shuffled in Rob Blake, Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich. It’s Stanley Cup or bust for Wilson.

As usual, the Sharks are excelling in the regular season. The team is off to a 7-2-0 start, winning six of its first seven games. However, Wilson overhauled his team to get results in the postseason. That will be the measure of if his tactic worked or not. The Sharks will have a chance to measure themselves against Cup-caliber competition this week by hosting last season’s two Stanley Cup Finalists with Pittsburgh on Tuesday and Detroit on Thursday. San Jose’s game against the Penguins will be its first at home after playing three road games in four days last week.
The San Jose Sharks' offense relies heavily on Joe Thornton, who has led the Sharks in points ever since his trade from Boston. In the past three seasons, Thornton has accumulated 96, 114 and 125 points respectively. During that stretch he also notched 255 assists and recorded two 90-plus assist seasons. Thornton is the best setup man in the game and is in the prime of his career. There is no surprise that he currently leads the squad this season with 10 points (2G-8A) in 13 games.

Patrick Marleau had a down year last season, posting 48 points (19G-29A). In the two seasons prior to that, Marleau registered more than a point per game with 86 (82 games) and 78 points (77 games). He has the talent to change a game and will be motivated to prove that last season was an aberration. Jonathan Cheechoo hasn’t produced the same numbers as his 93-point season in 2005-06, but he’s still a dangerous sniper.

The Sharks have a blend of youth and veterans. Milan Michalek is starting to emerge as the scoring threat the team envisioned when it made him the No. 6 overall pick in the 2003 draft and Joe Pavelski looks ready for a breakout season. Mike Grier and Jeremy Roenick provide veteran leadership to the group.
There are a lot of new players using stalls in the Sharks locker room, and they are all blue liners. Veteran Rob Blake wanted to make another run at the Cup and still has a little left in the tank in his 18th NHL season. Dan Boyle, acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay, is an offensive defenseman who likes to join the rush. He should help bolster the team’s goal scoring, especially on the power play. Brad Lukowich, who was also brought in from Tampa in the trade, earned a championship ring with the Lightning. Youngsters Christian Ehrhoff and Marc-Edouard Vlasic will round out the group.
All-star Evgeni Nabokov has had an up-and-down career, but the 33-year-old netminder is back on top. Last year he notched career bests in games played (77), wins (46) and goal against average (2.14). He’s fought off competition from Mikka Kiprssoff and Vesa Toskala, emerging as the Sharks No. 1 goalie in both occasions. Ron Wilson rode Nabokov hard last season because the team lacked a veteran backup. Now, he has Brian Boucher. In his two starts this season, Boucher has stopped all 43 shots on goal and posted two shutouts. Boucher is no stranger to blanking opponents, setting an NHL record with five-consecutive shutouts while playing 332:01 minutes between goals. If nothing else, Boucher will help keep Nabokov fresh for the playoffs.
Wilson overhauled the defensive corps of the team, losing Craig Rivet, Brian Campbell, Matt Carle, Sandis Ozolinsh and Ty Wishart. In doing so, Wilson brought in Blake, Doyle and Lukowich. However, Wilson’s riskiest pickup was handing a Stanley Cup contender to a novice head coach. There is tremendous pressure on McLellan to produce. The Sharks' new boss was a productive AHL coach and earned a Stanley Cup ring last season with the Red Wings. Now he has his first shot at being the top dog in the NHL and he’s inherited a loaded roster. Time will tell if he can handle the lofty task.
It’s kind of an easy pick but Thornton is currently the best playmaking center in the game (though a healthy Sidney Crosby could overtake him). Thornton’s assist totals in the past three seasons are matched by no one. At 6-foot-4, 235-pounds, it’s difficult to knock him off the puck. Thornton has incredible speed for a man of his size, making him a freight train on skates. He’s been slowed this season with a lingering groin injury, but he’s always dangerous with the puck.
“I’m a little sore right now.”
- Joe Thornton told the San Jose Mercury News about his lingering groin injury
0: Number of goals allowed by goaltender Brian Boucher in two games this season.

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