Sharks' defense faces test vs. high-powered Lightning
Defense is key to the San Jose Sharks' four-game winning streak that has them steadily climbing the Pacific Division standings.
Arguably the club's stiffest test of the season will come Wednesday night when the Sharks face the high-scoring duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov as the surging Tampa Bay Lightning visit SAP Center.
San Jose (8-5-0) improved to 3-0-0 on its five-game homestand with a 2-1 shootout win over the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night. Joonas Donskoi scored the game-winner in the sixth round, and Martin Jones stopped 25 shots through regulation and overtime, then five more in the tiebreaker.
"If you look at the high-quality scoring chances, you probably could count on one hand the ones we gave up," said Jones, who has surrendered seven goals in his last six starts after yielding 12 in his first four appearances. "It was a really solid game for us."
On Monday, Jones was named the league's Third Star of the Week after winning all three starts with a 1.30 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage. The 27-year-old ranks second in the NHL with a 1.98 goals-against average and is tied for fifth with a .930 save percentage.
Jones has won both career starts against the Lightning, turning aside 53 of 56 shots, but he has never faced them in California. He also will be saddled with the task of trying to shut down the league's top two scorers.
Stamkos leads the NHL with 18 assists and 25 points, while Kucherov has a league-best 14 goals and ranks second with 23 points.
"You look at the history of the league, the past few decades, there have been some fantastic duos," Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness told the Tampa Bay Times. "And the way they're playing right now, they're right there."
After failing to make the playoffs despite putting up 94 points last season, Tampa Bay (11-2-2) sits atop the Eastern Conference. However, the Lightning have alternated wins and losses over the last four games following a 9-1-1 start.
Tampa Bay begins a three-game road trip through California after a 5-4 shootout win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night. Kucherov had a goal and an assist, and Stamkos also scored and added the lone goal in the tiebreaker.
"We'll definitely take the win, but we've got to close out games better," Stamkos said.
Stamkos opened the season with an 11-game points streak in which he tallied four goals and 17 assists. The league's First Star for October has three goals and an assist over the last four games, but he was held off the scoresheet in two of those contests -- both losses.
Kucherov has seen his goal total rise in each of his first four campaigns, from nine in 2013-14 to a career-high 40 last season. Named the NHL's Second Star last month, the Russian has scored six goals on the road this season, helping the Lightning to a 4-1-1 record.
Stamkos has three goals and three assists in five career games at San Jose. Kucherov has two goals and an assist in his career versus the Sharks, all coming on the West Coast.
Tampa Bay is expected to start Andrei Vasilevskiy in goal. The 22-year-old is 11-1-1 despite a 2.52 GAA. On the road, Vasilevskiy has given up 13 goals en route to a 4-1-1 record.
He will try to keep Sharks captain Joe Pavelski from notching his 300th NHL goal. When the 205th overall pick in the 2003 draft does so, he will join former longtime teammate Patrick Marleau as the only San Jose players to reach the milestone.
With four goals, Pavelski is tied with Donskoi for second on the team. The 33-year-old center has six goals and three assists in 13 career games versus the Lightning.
Updated November 8, 2017