Home dominance has lifted the San Jose Sharks to the top of the Pacific Division. Performing well on the road could show they really belong there.
The first-place Sharks are riding a five-game unbeaten streak as they take on the Columbus Blue Jackets in the opener of a four-game road trip.
The first stop on San Jose’s trip should be the easiest, facing a last-place Columbus team on the verge of matching the longest home winless streak in club history. The Sharks’ next three games are at Chicago, St. Louis and Vancouver.
San Jose has climbed the Western Conference standings thanks in part to its current 11-game unbeaten streak at home. The Sharks have just three regulation losses in 18 games at HP Pavilion this season.
However, they have won only once in their last six road games (1-3-1-1).
Despite those struggles, San Jose enters this contest unbeaten in its last five (4-0-1), including Monday’s 5-2 win over Nashville.
”(First place) doesn’t mean anything at all,” said the Sharks’ Nils Ekman, who had two goals and an assist. “We’d rather be in first than last, but it just means we’re going in the right direction. We’re getting positive publicity, and hopefully people will get behind the team and support us.”
Continuing to support the Blue Jackets has to be getting tougher for that team’s fans.
Columbus, in last place in the Central Division, is winless in seven games (0-5-1-1) at Nationwide Arena since Dec. 2, one short of the franchise record, set during the 2001-02 season.
The Blue Jackets have lost eight of nine overall and are 1-8-1-2 in their last 12. Monday’s 3-2 loss to St. Louis was the Jackets’ fifth straight at home—all by one goal.
“Nobody is pointing fingers, nobody is getting down on one another,” said Todd Marchant, who had a goal in Monday’s loss. “We’re just trying to get out of it together as a group.”
STANDINGS (through Dec. 29): Sharks - 42 points, 1st place, Pacific Division. Blue Jackets - 25 points, 5th place, 24 PB, Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Sharks - Patrick Marleau, 17 goals and 27 points; Vincent Damphousse, 17 assists; Wayne Primeau and Rob Davison, 57 PIM. Blue Jackets - Rick Nash, 23 goals and 27 points; Marchant, 14 assists; Jody Shelley, 105 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 29): Sharks - Power play: 19.6 percent (31 for 158), 7th in NHL. Penalty killing: 86.0 percent (22 for 157), 9th. Blue Jackets - Power play: 14.1 percent (26 for 185), 22nd. Penalty killing: 82.6 percent (25 for 144), 23rd.
2002-03 SEASON SERIES: Sharks, 2-1-0-1
LAST MEETING: Feb. 1; Sharks, 6-0. At San Jose, Calif., Marco Sturm scored two goals in a three-minute span of the second period and Nabokov stopped 29 shots. Tempers flared in the third period, resulting in a combined 64 penalty minutes—29 for Shelley.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Sharks - 7-6-4-2 on the road; Blue Jackets - 8-9-3-1 at home.