SAN JOSE Loyal Sharks fans may have missed their chance to see Sidney Crosby when Pittsburgh visited in early November, as the Penguins star was still recovering from a concussion, but that doesnt mean there arent other opportunities to see marquee NHL players from the Eastern Conference.
The Lightnings Steven Stamkos is certainly one of those. The player many consider the NHLs second best behind Crosby makes a rare appearance at HP Pavilion when Tampa Bay visits on Wednesday night.
With goals in three straight games, and seven points total over that span (4g, 3a), the Sharks will likely have their hands full with the guy who has surged to the NHL lead in goal scoring with 20.
Obviously, hes a great young talent, said Colin White, who has the most experience against Stamkos among Sharks defensemen, having played with the New Jersey Devils during Stamkos first three years in the league.
Obviously, his shot comes to mind, and on the power play they look to set him up. Hes got a great release.
Jason Demers may not have as much playing time against Stamkos as White does, but he got a chance to see the former 50-goal scorer last season when the Lightning visited in November. Stamkos scored a power play goal in that game, but it came late in the third period of a 5-2 Sharks win.
Hes just an opportunistic shooter, is the best way to say it, said Demers. You cant give him too many chances because if you give him five shots, theres a good chance one will end up going in. You just have to keep an eye on him and not give him too much separation. Just play hard on him and make it a hard game on him.
Hes a dynamic player. Scores a lot of goals and scores them from familiar spots, so well have to be aware of that, said Todd McLellan.
Tampa Bay (14-16-2) has been among the NHLs biggest disappointments this season after going to the Eastern Conference final last year. The Lightning took the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins a full seven games before a slim 1-0 defeat ended their season in late May.
The biggest reason theyve been unable to duplicate that success this year is an inability to keep the puck out of their own net. The Lightning allow 3.28 goals per game, 28th in the NHL. In their last 10 games, they have held their opponents to under three goals just twice (3-7-0).
Still, with players like Stamkos, Martin St. Louis (9g, 13a) and Vincent Lecavalier (11g, 11a), the Sharks know they cant take Tampa Bay lightly. The Lightning play a very distinct 1-3-1 defense, making it hard at times to get through the neutral zone.
They went to the conference finals last year and even though they havent played that well this year, they still have a lot of firepower and a lot of good players up front and the back end, too, said Michal Handzus. Weve got to be on top of our game.
Odds and ends: Antti Niemi will start in net for the Sharks, his 12th start in the last 13 games. Colin White is expected to play after missing Mondays practice. He was hit in the hand with a shot on Saturday against Edmonton. Defensemen Douglas Murray and Jim Vandermeer are doubtful for the game, but could both be cleared to return by Friday against Los Angeles, according to McLellan.