Sharks kick off four-game road trip in Toronto
Phil Kessel leads the Maple Leafs with 24 points this year. (USATSI)
Programming note: Sharks-Maple Leafs coverage gets underway at 3:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live, only on Comcast SportsNet California
TORONTO -- The Sharks and Maple Leafs are trending in opposite directions, as they get set to meet in Toronto on Tuesday night.
San Jose has won its last five games, all at home, and has surged to the top the NHL standings with a .788 winning percentage. The Sharks are 8-1-1 in their last 10, are healthier now than they were at the start of the season, and feature a forward group that has five players over the 20-point mark.
Conversely, the Maple Leafs have lost their last four, and have scored two goals or less in five of the last six games. Toronto remains without key forward Joffrey Lupul, who will miss his fourth straight with a groin injury, while center Nazem Kadri will miss Tuesday’s game due to the death of his grandfather.
The Sharks will try and keep rolling as they begin a four-game road trip, the first three of which are against Eastern Conference foes.
“The extended homestand against some tough competition was good for us, but now it’s time for us to get out here and see if we can apply our game that we bottled up at home, here on the road,” Todd McLellan said.
Logan Couture said: “We don’t know too much about them, haven’t played them for awhile, and they’re an Eastern Conference team. We’ve just got to play the same way we’ve played. We played some tough teams lately, some Western Conference teams who are in your face and have got some big forwards and d-men who play strong. We’ve got to worry about our game before we worry about them.”
Toronto’s top line of Phil Kessel (24 points), James van Riemsdyk (20 points) and Tyler Bozak (10 points) has been impressive, but after that, the Maple Leafs lack scoring punch. Kadri’s absence only exacerbates that weakness.
David Clarkson, who signed a seven-year, $36.75 million deal in the offseason, has just two goals and three assists in his first 17 games with the Maple Leafs.
“We’ve got to find a way to be better in this locker room. It’s not one, or two, or three guys, it’s as a group,” Clarkson said. “We’ve got to find a way to give more as individuals, and to give more back to the team.”
In goal, Antti Niemi will make his seventh straight start, opposing Toronto’s James Reimer. The Sharks enter with a league-best 38.5 shots per game, while Toronto gives up the most shots in the league at 35.9 per game.
Reimer, 6-3-1 with a 2.58 goals-against average and .931 save percentage, could be busy.
“The more shots you get the more you’re into the game, but at the same time, you don’t want 40 shots in the slot,” Reimer said. “San Jose is a good team and you hear reports that they shoot the puck a lot, so as a goaltender you have to be ready for the puck to come from any angle. And, you have to try your best to control your rebounds so you don’t give them second opportunities.”
The Maple Leafs bring a 9-4-0 record into the game, with four of their next five at the Air Canada Centre. Currently, they are holding on to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“They’re going to want to put a good game forward,” Andrew Desjardins said. “I think we’ve just got to keep the pace we’re doing, and keep doing the right things.
“We’re playing well right now, we’ve just got to continue that.”