The San Jose Sharks already own the league’s best road record. Continuing that success during a season-high eight-game swing could help them get back atop the Pacific Division.
San Jose kicks off a stretch of four games in five days on Sunday when they visit the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden for the first time in more than five years.
The Sharks (31-18-8), who are 17-5-3 on the road, will play all five Atlantic Division teams, Columbus, Detroit and St. Louis before returning home March 3 against Montreal.
San Jose forward Jonathan Cheechoo told the Sharks’ official Web site that preparation will be key to staying fresh during a grueling stretch of games.
“Most guys on this team, a lot of us have played in the minors before and you have to take long road trips,” he said. “Guys know you have to take care of yourself. Get the right amount of sleep. You have to drink a lot of fluids, lots of Gatorade and water to stay hydrated.”
San Jose will be making its first appearance at MSG since a 2-1 overtime loss on Dec. 16, 2002, and Cheechoo and Patrick Marleau at the only players remaining on the Sharks roster from the game. San Jose is just 2-6-1 with a tie in 10 games in New York City.
With 70 points, San Jose starts play third in the Pacific, seven points behind first-place Dallas. The Sharks also have played five fewer games than the Stars.
Coach Ron Wilson’s team, though, closed out a 3-2-1 homestand with 4-3 overtime loss to Calgary on Tuesday and a 3-2 defeat against Edmonton on Thursday. Joe Pavelski and Mike Grier scored and Evgeni Nabokov made 15 saves in the loss to the Oilers.
“It’s a game we have to win and needed to win,” Grier said. “It’s disappointing. We didn’t have enough guys play at the top of their game.”
Nabokov, who is tied with New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur for the league lead with 31 wins, won his only career start in New York in 2001. He stopped 31 shots in a 5-1 victory.
The Rangers (29-24-7) quickly showed no effects from a five-day layoff on Saturday. Sean Avery scored the first of New York’s four first-period goals just 10 seconds after the opening faceoff en route to a 5-1 win over Buffalo.
Avery finished with two goals, Brandon Dubinksky had a goal and two assists and Martin Straka had one assist for his 700th career point.
“That start was everything we could have hoped for,” Rangers head coach Tom Renney told the team’s official Web site. “We were a passionate team that wanted to come out and make it clear to Buffalo, who has been very good lately, that they were going to have their hands full today.”
Henrik Lundqvist, playing in his first game since signing a six-year, $41.25 million extension on Thursday, carried a shutout into the third period and finished with 29 saves for his 25th win this season.
Whoever starts in goal in this contest will try to lead the Rangers to their first win over a Western Conference foe in 2007-08. Lundqvist is 0-5-2 with a 3.93 goals-against average in seven starts, while Stephen Valiquette is 0-2-0 with a 3.75 GAA.
Neither player has ever faced the Sharks.