PREDATORS (2-2-3) at SHARKS (7-0-0)
TV: FS-Tennessee, CSN-California
Season series: First of three meetings, two of which will be at HP Pavilion. Last season, the teams split both home and away, each pocketing an overtime loss point in the Shark Tank.
Big story: The wins have gotten a little harder to obtain, but the San Jose Sharks continue to reign supreme as the only remaining undefeated team in the NHL, thanks to a powerful 3.86-goals-per-game offense and a defense that allows 1.71, tied with the Ottawa Senators for League best. The Predators are treading water, scoring a League-worst 1.57 goals per game, but have managed to go 2-2-1 so far on a seven-game, 15-day road trip which ends next Tuesday at the St. Louis Blues.
Predators: It's been either a shootout or a shutout for Pekka Rinne in his first five starts, the Predators getting blanked by the Blues and Coyotes while failing to come up with more than three goals in regulation against any opponent and not grabbing an extra point in their first three shootout attempts. Not a familiar state of affairs for a goalie who led the NHL in wins last season. Going into Thursday, he had none.
That night was looking similar to the others going into the shootout, but the Predators defeated the Kings 2-1 on Sergei Kostitsyn's eighth-round wrist shot underneath Jonathan Quick.
"I've been putting a lot of pressure on myself," Rinne said to the Tennessean. "This was my first win of the season, and we are already six games in. It has been a tough go so far. Hopefully this kind of changes the course of how things are going."
Kostitsyn said, "It's nice to score to help Peks win the game in a shootout. We lost three before that. A good road win and good for Peks."
Sharks: You'd never know it from the record, but the Sharks are not perfect. A blown 2-0 lead forced them into the shootout for the second game in a row, but they nailed down the 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday.
And for the second game in a row, Michal Handzus did a little of what he's now famous for: scoring the opening shootout goal. Even as he searches for his first point of the season in game action, his 18-for-34 record in shootouts puts him in the top slot when the final overtime buzzer sounds.
"Zeus, ever since he's been here, he's been pretty money on shootout goals," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said in the San Jose Mercury News. "Last game he buried one, and tonight, so it's an easy choice for coach (Todd McLellan) to put him out there as the No. 1 shooter."
Who's hot: For the Sharks, everyone. The top line makes the headlines, as Thornton and Patrick Marleau share second place in the NHL with 14 points, one behind leader Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres. Linemate Joe Pavelski is right behind them with 12 and Logan Couture is on his heels with 10, giving the Sharks four players among the League's top 10 scorers. Marleau leads the League with nine goals, Thornton leads the League in assists with 11. Only Handzus, known for his contributions when the clock isn't running, has a negative plus-minus rating. Antti Niemi's 1.95 goals-against average is up with the elite, and backup Thomas Greiss shut out the Colorado Avalanche in his only appearance. Even Scott Gomez, rescued from oblivion four games ago, wins 68 percent of his faceoffs, complementing a team that's second-best in the League overall at 58.5 percent.
Injury report: One reason for the Predators' sputtering offense is the absence of top goal-scorer Patric Hornqvist, who led the team last year with 27. He's weeks away from returning with a sprained knee. … Sharks defenseman Brent Burns has no timetable for a return from a lower-body injury, but undrafted 25-year-old rooke Matt Irwin has stepped up admirably, playing more than 19 minutes per game.
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