Feb. 23, 2011
SHARKS (34-21-6) vs.
Coverage begins at 4 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The San Jose Sharks have been awfully good defensively during their second-half resurgence, never allowing more than three goals during a stretch that's seen them win 13 of 16.
Holding the Pittsburgh Penguins down isn't nearly the challenge that it once was.
The Sharks seek a season high-tying fifth consecutive victory Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins hope the acquisition of forward James Neal will give their floundering offense a boost.
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San Jose (33-21-6) allowed 2.80 goals per game during a 21-19-5 start that had it in 10th place in the Western Conference.
It was hard to believe one of the league's best regular-season teams over the past decade was in danger of missing the playoffs, but the Sharks are back among the West's top four after allowing an average of 1.81 goals over their past 16.
They improved to 13-2-1 in that stretch - and stayed just a point behind Pacific Division-leading Phoenix - with a 4-3 win at Detroit on Tuesday.
REWIND: Sharks hang on to defeat Red Wings
"Our playoffs started 15 games ago," said captain Joe Thornton, who scored his 300th career goal and assisted on both of Devin Setoguchi's tallies.
The Penguins (36-20-5) are also in fourth place in their conference, but the explosive offense that helped carry them to two of the past three Stanley Cup finals is a shell of what it once was.
After initially surviving without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and a lineup that's currently missing eight other forwards, Pittsburgh is starting to stumble. The Penguins have scored 14 goals over their last eight games.
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That's why general manager Ray Shero made a move Monday, trading defenseman Alex Goligoski to Dallas for Neal - a 20-goal scorer in each of his first three seasons - and defenseman Matt Niskanen.
"There's not many of these power guys in the game," Shero said of the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Neal. "And (James), on our list, is one of the better ones in the game and has got some room to grow. That's why when you can get a guy like Neal - the opportunity might not be there again."
Hours after the trade, Pittsburgh showed why the addition of Neal was so necessary. Despite putting 39 shots on goal at Michal Neuvirth, the Penguins were beaten 1-0 by Washington.
Five of those shots came from center Jordan Staal, who saw his five-game point streak end. Coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday that he'll install Neal on the left side of the team's top line with Staal and Tyler Kennedy.
"I think (Neal is) going to make us a better team going into (Wednesday's) game and give us a chance to get what we need to get wins," Bylsma said. "With Jordan, I can see them being a real formidable pair."
With top defenseman Paul Martin out Wednesday with an upper-body injury, Niskanen is expected to join Kris Letang on the team's No. 1 power-play unit.
The Penguins haven't scored more than two goals against San Jose in seven meetings since December 2002, as the Sharks have gone 6-0-1.
Thornton has rarely done anything but win versus Pittsburgh. Dating to his days with Boston, Thornton's teams are 15-1-2 against the Penguins since December 2001.
He has 10 goals and 25 assists in those contests.
This will be the first meeting between these teams since the Sharks routed Pittsburgh, 5-0, on November 7, 2009. The victory improved San Jose's record to 12-1-1-1 in the series since April 1998. ... The Sharks won their fourth game in a row with a 4-3 victory at Detroit on Tuesday. Their 13-2-1 record since January 15 represents the best winning percentage (.844) in the Western Conference over that span. ... After getting shut out on Monday, 1-0, the Penguins have failed to score more than three goals in 14 consecutive games, their longest such streak since 2003. ... Dany Heatley has scored 20 goals in 26 career games against the Penguins, the best rate (0.77 goals per game) by any active skater versus Pittsburgh (minimum 10 games). ... Devin Setoguchi followed his hat trick versus Colorado on Saturday with another two goals on Tuesday. He sports a 7 rating over his past 14 games after producing a mark of -15 over his first 38 games of the season. ... New Penguin James Neal has scored 10 points against San Jose in his career, his second-highest total versus any opponent (11 versus Anaheim). His six career goals against the Sharks are tied for his second most versus any foe (seven versus Edmonton).