TV: FOX Sports Florida
TIME: 10:30 p.m.
Tightening up on defense has not only helped the San Jose Sharks erase memories of an inconsistent start to the season, but the unit is atop of the league.
San Jose goes for its seventh win in eight games when it meets the Florida Panthers on Thursday night at SAP Center.
Coming off their first shutout of the season Saturday night against the Vancouver Canucks, the Sharks continued to surge by rallying for a 2-1 win over the Pacific Division-best Los Angeles Kings on Sunday.
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Melker Karlsson and Joel Ward scored third-period goals and Martin Jones stopped 26 shots against his former team.
San Jose remains near the bottom of the league with 2.69 goals per game. However, thanks to Jones (8-4-0, 2.13 goals-against average) and Aaron Dell (2-2-0, 1.94 GAA), the Sharks have surrendered a league-low 36 goals.
San Jose (10-6-0) has allowed two goals or fewer in eight of its last nine contests.
"I mean we're not going to win 7-6 games very often. That's just kind of how we play," Jones told the team's official website. "We don't play a very pretty style of play. We make it tough for other teams to play in our end. We're physical, we get pucks deep and we grind in (the offensive) zone, so those are the types of games that we have to win."
Facing Florida may finally help Sharks defenseman Brent Burns get out of a season-long scoring slump. The league's top scoring blueliner and Norris Trophy winner from last season has just seven assists and hasn't picked up a point in five straight games despite averaging nearly 24 minutes of ice time.
In five career games at SAP Center vs. Florida, Burns has three goals and four assists, including three multi-point contests.
Meanwhile, Sharks captain Joe Pavelski is still hunting for his 300th career goal, all with San Jose. The 205th overall pick in the 2003 NHL Draft has four goals this season and is the team's top scorer against the Panthers, with five goals and eight assists in 12 games.
Wins have been hard for San Jose (10-6-0) to record when it faces Florida. After reeling off six straight victories between 2002 and 2006, San Jose has dropped eight of 12, including five of six (1-2-3) at the Shark Tank.
Florida (6-9-2), which opens a three-game West Coast road trip in northern California, is in position to try to win consecutive games for the first time since the opening week of the season. The Panthers got two early power-play goals from Jonathan Huberdeau, and Roberto Luongo finished with 40 saves in a 4-3 shootout win over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday.
"Even though we've been playing better, we've still been playing .500 hockey over the last four games," Luongo told the Panthers' official website. "It's a process. We've just got to stick with it."
The 38-year-old Luongo, who missed six games with a hand injury earlier in the season, has been solid in his last three starts, going 2-1-0 and stopping 109 of 115 shots.
On Feb. 15, Luongo surrendered five goals before leaving in the final minute of regulation with an injury as Huberdeau lifted Florida to a 6-5 overtime win. Luongo is 7-5-1 with a 2.64 GAA in 14 starts in San Jose during his career.
"We can't take things for granted," Luongo said. "If we come up with a win or whatnot, we can't just expect it to happen again the next game. It's a matter of putting in the work every day, getting better as a team and not taking anything for granted."
James Reimer, who played eight games with the Sharks after being acquired in a 2016 trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs, is 3-6-1 with a 3.77 GAA and .891 save percentage in 10 games, including nine starts, this season.
Huberdeau, a Calder Trophy winner, is tied for second on Florida with seven goals and leads the team with 14 assists and 21 points. The forward also has notched six assists in his last five road games.
This game also marks the return to San Jose for Panthers coach Bob Boughner, who had been an assistant in each of the previous two seasons under Peter DeBoer.