When the San Jose Sharks were dominating teams away from home in the first three months of the season, they likely would have relished an eight-game road trip.
That may not be the case anymore.
San Jose looks to avoid a fourth straight road loss on Wednesday when it continues its longest trip of the season with a matchup against the surging New Jersey Devils.
The Sharks (31-20-8) were a remarkable 16-3-2 away from home on Jan. 1, but have gone just 1-4-1 on the road since and have lost three straight, including the first two on their lengthy trip.
Their visit to the New York area began on Sunday with a 3-1 loss against the Rangers, then continued Monday with a 3-2 defeat to the Islanders. San Jose led 2-0 early in the third period Monday, but New York scored three goals in less than eight minutes to hand the Sharks their fourth straight loss overall.
All three were scored after goaltender Evgeni Nabokov was hit with a shot midway through the second period, breaking the cage on his mask and bloodying his face. He came back to start the third, but the Islanders scored on their first two shots.
“I had no idea where the puck went after I got hit,” said Nabokov, who has started all but one of the team’s 59 games this season. “It was so painful, I went right down. I saw the shot all the way. … I didn’t have a concussion or anything.”
Nabokov has more wins (31) than any goaltender but New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur (32) and his 2.22 goals-against average is one of the best in the NHL.
He’s had to be stellar because the Sharks haven’t scored much all season. They’re only averaging 2.52 goals per game and do not have a 20-goal scorer in their lineup. San Jose has only scored five times in its last three games.
Despite the offensive struggles, the Sharks have been able to count on Joe Thornton and Milan Michalek all season. Michalek, who leads the team with 19 goals, has two goals and five assists in his last five games, while Thornton - the Sharks’ leader with 68 points - has two goals and four assists in his last six.
The Devils (34-21-5) had also been one of the league’s lowest-scoring teams, but they’ve used an offensive surge to climb atop the Atlantic Division.
They were averaging just 2.43 goals per contest on Feb. 1, but have scored 3.67 in going 6-1-2 in their last nine games.
The offense kept rolling on Monday as New Jersey beat Carolina 5-1 to improve to 4-0-1 in its last five contests.
But with Pittsburgh lurking in the division and Ottawa and Montreal close for the best record in the Eastern Conference, coach Brent Sutter knows the Devils have more work to do.
“We’re not satisfied,” Sutter said. “We have to plug away here, every game is a big game. … The standings will take care of themselves as long as we stay focused as a team.”
As the offense has picked up, Brodeur has remained steady. He’s 6-2-2 with a 2.06 GAA in his last 10 starts, and hasn’t allowed more than three goals in a game this month.
San Jose hasn’t visited New Jersey since a 3-2 Devils win on Nov. 5, 2003.