Stars-Sharks Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated February 02, 2012
A week off the ice might have been exactly what the San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars both needed to jump start their respective sputtering offenses. The Sharks have had little trouble scoring goals against the Stars of late. As both clubs look for a second straight strong offensive showing, the Sharks will try for a fifth consecutive victory over the visiting Stars on Thursday night. San Jose (28-14-6) had not scored more than three goals in any of its previous eight games before returning from the All-Star break with a 6-0 rout of lowly Columbus on Tuesday. Joe Thornton had two goals with an assist while Jamie McGinn, Michal Handzus and Joe Pavelski had one of each as the Pacific Division-leading Sharks matched their second-highest goal output of the season. "We've been working to score some goals,'' said Thornton, who had gone his previous 10 games without a goal. "Hopefully we can get some confidence from this.'' San Jose should have plenty of confidence versus Dallas (26-21-2), which has been outscored 21-6 during a four-game series losing streak. The Sharks have scored nine of those goals in a pair of victories over the Stars in 2011-12. Thornton has two goals and six assists in the last four games versus Dallas while McGinn has two with one assist against the Stars this season. While the Sharks hope Tuesday's effort was the beginning of an offensive surge, their overall defense and the play of goaltender Antti Niemi has been stellar of late. After San Jose dropped its third straight game with a 2-1 shootout loss at Edmonton on Jan. 23, Niemi made 25 saves in a 1-0 win at Calgary the next night then stopped 30 against the Blue Jackets. Neither Niemi or the Sharks' franchise has ever shut out three straight opponents. Niemi, who ranks among the NHL leaders with four shutouts, has posted a 1.50 goals-against average during his team's four-game winning streak versus Dallas. Though the Stars face a stiff challenge in this contest, they should have some momentum after also matching their second-highest goal total of the season with their second victory in as many games over Anaheim, 6-2 on the road Wednesday. Jamie Benn and Michael Ryder each had a goal with two assists for the Stars, who has scored just seven times in their previous six contests. "You're going to get your chances, you just have to bury them," said Stars forward Vernon Fiddler, who scored his seventh goal Wednesday. Just one point out of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, Dallas hopes to play well out of the break, unlike last season when it followed the All-Star festivities with a 1-8-1 stretch and eventually missed the playoffs for a third straight time. "We wanted to come out strong after the break, and we've got to keep moving forward like this if we want to make the playoffs," said defenseman Stephane Robidas, who scored his third goal Wednesday. The Stars could be in good shape with a healthy Benn, who returned Wednesday after missing five games following an emergency appendectomy. The third-year winger has seven goals and 14 assists in his last 15 games but has been held without a point in his last three against the Sharks.
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