The San Jose Sharks commence their final extended road trip of the year with a stop in the Sunshine State against the defending Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning. The Sharks are looking for a good start to this cross-country trek as they battle for playoff positioning in the Pacific Division.
San Jose heads out East after securing three out of a possible four points on their brief home stand following a 4-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night. The Sharks went 2-2 on their last road trip and are hoping to continue their road-warrior mentality as their 18 wins away from SAP Center are tied for the most in the Western Conference.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay finds themselves in a dog fight for the playoffs. Currently, the Lightning occupy the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference but they are tied with 64 points with the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s been a whirlwind year for Tampa as they’ve been surrounded by the whole mess with Jonathan Drouin along with the impending Steven Stamkos free-agency decision.
The Lightning have dropped three of their last four games heading into tonight’s matchup with the Sharks, although Tampa Bay did beat San Jose earlier this season, 4-3 at SAP Center behind two goals from leading scorer Nikita Kucherov.
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Sharks: Joonas Donskoi. Donskoi has been quite the find for this San Jose team, and he is really hitting his stride at the right time. Donskoi has found the back of the net in two straight games, and three of his last five games, as he has helped provide that secondary scoring the Sharks have longed for. Donskoi has 10 goals and 16 assists with a plus-two rating in 49 games in his rookie campaign in San Jose.
Lightning: Steven Stamkos. It’s been drama-filled year for the Tampa Bay star off the ice as many have focused in on whether Stamkos will remain in a Lightning uniform or whether he will be somewhere else next season. Regardless, Stamkos hasn’t been quite as dynamic for Tampa this season as his 42 points (22 goals, 20 assists) rank second on the team. However, his offensive output is on pace to be the lowest in a full season since his rookie year.
Keys to the Game
1. Defensive Presence
While the Lightning haven’t lived up to expectations this year, they still possess plenty of offensive firepower with Stamkos, Kucherov and Tyler Johnson. The Sharks have done a nice job of limiting the shots against over the last two games, allowing 45 shots over the last six periods, including just one shot on goal against in the third period against the Coyotes. San Jose will want to limit the time and space afforded to this group of Tampa forwards who can create plenty of mismatches with their speed and skill.
2. Crash The Net
Ben Bishop is a mountain of a man between the pipes for the Lightning as the 6-foot-7 netminder offers very little room to shoot at. Bishop has been on point this season with a 2.09 GAA and a .923 save percentage. San Jose will need to do a good job of creating havoc in front and searching for rebound opportunities as you won’t be able to find any room past Bishop if he has clear vision on the puck.
3. Start Off On The Right Foot
The Sharks have done a nice job of setting the tone on their extended road trips this season. In almost every case, San Jose has been able to win the first game which has allowed them to build momentum throughout the trip. The Sharks will look to do the same in Tampa Bay as they want to keep pace with their SoCal rivals in the Pacific Division.
TV: CSN-California (4:30 p.m. PST)
Radio: 98.5 KFOX