Just as the San Jose Sharks are again starting to look like Stanley Cup contenders, they might need to play without one their top offensive players.
San Jose (46-19-10) sits atop the West with 102 points - two ahead of Pacific Division rival Phoenix and three in front of Chicago - and has won three in a row following a season-high six-game skid. The Sharks’ potent offense is once again rolling, with 11 goals during the winning streak after totaling 12 in the previous six losses.
Now, the Sharks have a chance to win four straight for the first time since a five-game run Jan. 16-23.
San Jose may be feeling good, but the victory over the Canucks might prove costly.
Thornton left at the end of the second period after crashing awkwardly into the boards and appearing to twist his ankle. The alternate captain, who leads the Sharks with 66 assists and 85 points and hasn’t missed a game since October 2005, is listed as day-to-day with an injury that remains officially undisclosed.
Thornton wasn’t the only San Jose center to get hurt. In the final minute of the third period, a deflected shot hit Manny Malhotra(notes) in the face. He fell to the ground, before skating to the bench under his own power with blood dripping down his face.
On the bright side for the Sharks, Evgeni Nabokov(notes) is looking as solid as ever between the pipes. He made 35 saves Saturday to earn his 40th win of the season, and has stopped 80 of 83 shots while earning all three wins during the current streak.
Nabokov has also been in net for both games against the Avalanche this season, stopping 15 shots in a 5-2 loss in Colorado on Oct. 1 and making 24 saves in a 3-1 home victory on Oct. 30. He is 6-1-0 with a 1.70 goals-against average and one shutout at home against the Avalanche since 2005-06.
While the Sharks are playing well again, Colorado has suddenly fallen on hard times.
The Avs (41-26-7) arrive in San Jose following Saturday’s 6-2 loss to Phoenix, their fourth defeat in five games. Colorado, which was fifth in the West prior to this slump, is now eighth - one point behind seventh-place Los Angeles but with a six-game cushion on Calgary for the final playoff spot.
To go anywhere in the postseason, though, Colorado will likely need improved results from its power play and defense.
“We’re not playing well enough as a team right now and that’s the bottom line,” Anderson said.
Anderson, who has started 28 of the last 29 games for Colorado, has a 2.53 GAA in the two matchups with the Sharks this season.
These teams wrap up their regular-season series next Sunday in Colorado.