NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the San Jose Sharks host the Pittsburgh Penguins at SAP Center at 10:30 p.m. ET.
The Sharks and Penguins are the virtual class of their conferences. Pittsburgh is the No. 1 team in the East with 86 points and San Jose is a top five team in the West with 85. If you needed something to illustrate the vast differences between the East and West you don’t have to look any further than that, but when these two face off tonight in California, those style contrasts go out the window.
Pittsburgh won the earlier meeting against San Jose this season, a 5-1 decision in December where Chris Kunitz scored twice and the other four goal scorers from that game won’t be suiting up tonight (Pascal Dupuis, Kris Letang, Jayson Megna, and Tomas Hertl).
Things are a bit different for the Penguins this time around. Letang is out after suffering a stroke, Paul Martin is out with a broken hand, and Dupuis season is likely over after a knee injury. The basics are the same though. Sidney Crosby is still the best player in the game, Evgeni Malkin is still a terrifying handful, and Marc-Andre Fleury is holding things down in goal.
After breaking a three-game winless streak against Nashville on Tuesday night, the Penguins want to keep their road trip going in the right direction. Doing that against a Sharks team that’s won four of the past six games may be tricky.
Since coming out of the Olympic break, the Sharks have had some head-scratching moments. They buried the Philadelphia Flyers 7-3 in Philly only to follow that the next night losing 4-2 to the NHL’s worst team, the Buffalo Sabres in Antti Niemi‘s first start since returning from Sochi.
That kind of inconsistency will make coach Todd McLellan’s eyes go crossed. San Jose’s hope to catch the Anaheim Ducks in the Pacific Division race will need to see them pile up wins. They trail the Ducks by seven points, so if there are more of those aggravating losses, the division may be out of reach.
On the upside, Brent Burns broke his goal drought in their last game against Carolina and getting him going ahead of the postseason will do the Sharks a lot of good. Raffi Torres‘ return has seen him fill the net with three goals. Patrick Marleau has two goals in his past four games and 25 on the season.
It’ll be a star-studded display in San Jose between these teams and it’ll be on San Jose to show how they measure up in the grand scheme of things against the East’s top team.
-- Joe Yerdon, ProHockeyTalk.com
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