SAN JOSE -- For a team that has been so superior at home, the last time the Sharks had a string of consecutive games at the SAP Center, things didn’t go so well. San Jose played its first three games of the current month on home ice, but lost to Phoenix and Buffalo in shootouts, and dropped a 4-2 decision in regulation to Vancouver that wasn't as close as the score would indicate.
A five-game homestand begins on Thursday night, and it won’t be easy. Despite missing superstar Steven Stamkos, the Tampa Bay Lightning are in second place in the Atlantic Division and second overall in the Eastern Conference. The New Jersey Devils have won four of their last five games, and visit on Saturday (without Ryane Clowe, by the way, who is still out with a concussion).
After that, the Sharks will host the Kings, Blues and Ducks, all of whom should be considered Stanley Cup contenders.
Todd McLellan isn’t losing any sleep just yet, though. The Sharks are still 5-1-2 on home ice, and were tied for an NHL-best 39 points at home in 2013 (17-2-5).
McLellan said: “The little string of three games is the last three games, and when you go back over years, to have a very strong record at home you still have those little strings of three games. They just don’t become five, six, seven or eight games. It’s hard to be perfect.”
“We get a lot of energy from our fans, and we like playing in our building,” Patrick Marleau said. “We’ve been on the road for awhile, so it’s a good chance to get back here and get that game going.”
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The Sharks returned to the Bay Area with seven out of a possible 10 points, on a grueling road trip which saw them change time zones before each of the five games. On Sunday, though, they suffered their most decisive defeat of the season in Chicago, 5-1.
Monday was a day off, Tuesday consisted of an off-ice workout, and practice resumed on Wednesday. The team should be rested. But, will it be able to execute?
That’s the biggest question mark for the head coach headed into Thursday’s game.
“One day of skating underneath our belts, we’ll see if we’re fresh, can skate and have good legs, or if we’re rusty because we didn’t skate for two days,” McLellan said.
“The batteries should be recharged, it’s whether we’re sharp and alert.”
Tampa Bay is on a road trip of its own, and dropped the first two games in regulation in Phoenix and Los Angeles. The Lightning are one of the few Eastern Conference teams that can claim success against the West, though, winning its first seven games before losing those two to start the four-game journey.
Stamkos is out for several months with a broken leg, but Martin St. Louis, Valtteri Filppula and defenseman Viktor Hedman are big reasons the Lightning are 2-2-0 since Stamkos’ devastating injury. They’ve played well, according to McLellan.
[RELATED: Stamkos undergoes surgery for broken leg]
“I think that’s a good indicator of the strength of their team as far as depth and leadership,” McLellan said. “When you lose your go-to guy like that and your team can still go out and perform... They’ve lost a couple, but they’ll come hard and fast.”
Although they took a step backwards on Sunday, and have lately played mediocre hockey at home by their standards, a win over the Lightning would put that most recent effort and home losing streak in the rear view mirror. The Sharks should get a boost from Brent Burns’ return to the lineup, too.
[RELATED: Burns set to return against Lightning]
Dan Boyle said: “We take pride in our home game. We have for years now. I want to see us getting back to playing a little bit better, and hopefully the results will come with that.”
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Antti Niemi is expected to face Tampa Bay’s Anders Lindback in net. Lightning starter Ben Bishop will likely play against the Ducks on Friday.
Lindback is 1-4-0 with a 3.16 goals-against average and .875 save percentage in six games.