San Jose will try to maintain its hold of the league lead Tuesday night when they host the sputtering Red Wings, who are tied for the Western Conference’s final playoff position.
The Sharks (36-10-9) won last season’s Presidents’ Trophy by five points on Detroit after falling seven points shy of the Red Wings for the best regular-season record in 2007-08. Despite those superb finishes, San Jose hasn’t advanced beyond the conference semifinals since 2004, while the Wings won the 2008 Stanley Cup and lost to Pittsburgh in last year’s finals.
San Jose currently is atop the NHL with 81 points - one more than East-leading Washington - while Detroit is tied with Calgary for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Red Wings, who have reached the playoffs 18 consecutive seasons, also trail Chicago by 16 points in the Central Division, putting their run of eight division titles in a row in serious jeopardy.
While the Sharks have been impressive, they’ve failed to deliver against the Red Wings. However, they’re 8-0-2 since a 4-1 loss to Detroit on Jan. 9, and scored four unanswered goals against Minnesota on Saturday to rally to a 5-2 victory.
“It was a strange game but we won and I can’t complain,” coach Todd McLellan said. “We played OK and I’m happy with that.”
Patrick Marleau(notes), who had two goals and an assist Saturday, has 12 goals and eight assists in his last 14 games. The center is tied with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby(notes) for the NHL lead with 37 goals - one off his career high set last season.
Marleau netted San Jose’s lone tally against Detroit on Jan. 9, giving him 16 goals and 15 assists in 23 meetings at HP Pavilion.
Detroit was outshot 47-24 before falling 2-1 in a shootout at Pittsburgh on Sunday. Howard stopped 46 shots before getting beat twice in the tiebreaker. That performance came two nights after he made 46 saves in a 4-2 win over Nashville.
“We were on our heels a little bit, I think we gave them too much respect,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall(notes) said following the loss to the Penguins. “We have to do a way better job. It’s going to be a tough year if we keep letting 40-plus shots go past us. (Howard) is keeping us in games.”
Howard went 6-3-4 in January while posting a 2.26 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage. He stopped 31 shots in the Jan. 9 victory over San Jose, including 23 in the final two periods.
Some increased scoring from Pavel Datsyuk(notes) could help. The center has been inconsistent in his last 11 games, scoring three goals and six assists in five while being held off the scoresheet in the other six.
Datsyuk has three goals and six assists in nine visits to San Jose.