SHARKS (20-6-6) at PREDATORS (15-14-3)
TV: CSN-CA, FS-TN
Last 10: San Jose 6-3-1; Nashville 4-5-1
Season series: This is the first of three games between the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators. They played three tight, low-scoring games in 2012-13, with the Predators taking the first two 2-1 in a shootout and 1-0 before the Sharks won 2-1 when they last met March 2.
Big story: They may not be thriving in the same manner as the Los Angeles Kings, but the Predators have had to survive long-term without goaltender Pekka Rinne and have found a capable tandem in his stead. Marek Mazanec played well enough to earn NHL Rookie of the Month honors for November, but in the past week it's been fellow rookie Carter Hutton who excelled in wins against the New York Rangers and Dallas Stars.
Sharks: A quick glance at San Jose's record and place in the standings and you might think the Sharks have been on cruise control since the puck dropped in October. But the Sharks have had their speed bumps: an 0-1-4 stretch from Oct. 30-Nov. 10 and more recently an 0-3-1 skid they took into a Thursday home game with the Minnesota Wild.
The Wild defeated the Sharks 3-1 on Dec. 8, but San Jose turned the tables behind 29 saves from Antti Niemi and three power-play goals: two from Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl's rookie-leading 15th of the season.
"The one thing they got back was their work ethic for the most part," coach Todd McLellan said of his power-play unit in the San Jose Mercury News. "You start there, and you can certainly build off it. A three-for night is certainly a good night, a night that we'll take, and it obviously won us the game."
Predators: Mazanec's brilliant November didn't carry over into the new month; he started December with three consecutive defeats. Hutton got his first start in a month against the Rangers and responded with 28 saves, so Nashville went right back to him Thursday and got a similar result.
Hutton stopped 33 shots, and Shea Weber set up power-play goals by Patric Hornqvist and David Legwand 28 seconds apart late in the first period in a 3-1 win to begin a three-game homestand.
"We need to play well at home; it's simple," Weber said in The Tennessean. "In the past we've done so, and this year it hasn't been the case. We need to get back to playing the way we did [Thursday]."
Who's hot: Pavelski has three goals in his past two games. Forward Joe Thornton's two assists gave him 29 for the season, second in the NHL to Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins. … Legwand has one goal and three assists in his past two games. Forward Paul Gaustad has two goals and two assists in his past two games. Defenseman Roman Josi has one goal and three assists during a three-game point streak.
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