Dec 3, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; San Jose Sharks forward Joe Thornton (19) celebrates his goal with forward Joe Pavelski (8) and forward Patrick Marleau (12) during the first period against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: San Jose Sharks At Pittsburgh Penguins

Thursday evening will feature a great matchup between the San Jose Sharks and the Pittsburgh Penguins in what should be a fun game to watch. Both teams have been on a tear as of late, with the Penguins having won four straight and Pittsburgh is 7-3 in their last 10, while  the Sharks are winners of six straight games and are 9-1 in their last 10 games.

Pittsburgh boats some immense talent, especially offensively, and that starts with their captain Sidney Crosby, who leads the NHL in points with 15 goals and 23 assists. His latest feat was in an overtime game-winner where he went one-on-three, split the defense and then chipped a puck into the net to single-handedly win the game for his team against the Islanders.

However, not only does Pittsburgh have the NHL’s points leader, they also have the guy in second, Evgeni Malkin, who also leads the league in assists with 30. He, too, has been on fire lately for the Penguins and will be difficult to keep off the scoresheet.

Not to worry though, as Joe Thornton, San Jose’s leader in points, has 30 points and is second in the league in assists with 25.

But, unlike the San Jose Sharks, the Penguins rely very heavily on their top two lines to produce, so if Todd McLellan can play his matchups properly then San Jose has a good shot to win. In fact, I would not be surprised to see him match his two top lines (centered by Joe Thornton and Logan Couture) against Pittsburgh’s two top lines considering that even San Jose’s top forwards are very good defensively.

You can also bet that Crosby and Malkin will be seeing the defensive pairing of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun all night. Vlasic has been generating buzz all season with his phenomenal play in the shut-down defenseman role while Justin Braun leads the league with a +20 plus-minus rating in a similar role. Both play the opposing teams’ top players every night yet are still able to excel.

One of the other keys to the game will be for the Sharks to stay out of the box as much as possible. Pittsburgh has the best power play in the league while the San Jose has an average penalty kill that ranks 16th in the league and has been struggling of late. Most recently they allowed two power play goals against the Maple Leafs Tuesday night in their winning effort.

Not only that, but if the Sharks can keep the out of the box they have shown that they are very tough to beat at even strength and the stats back that up. In fact they are tops in the league with a 1.55 goals four versus goals against ratio compared to the Penguins who have a 1.10 ratio.

We fully expect this matchup of heavyweights to be a great one Thursday evening in Pittsburgh, and for the Sharks just another step towards their ultimate goal. Right now though the Sharks have something to prove against the top team in the east while making a bid to be the top team in the west and the league as they trail the Blackhawks by one point in both categories. Also, both teams have winning streaks on the line, so one of those will be gone by the end of the night.

So, be sure to tune in for tomorrow night’s game which starts at 4 p.m. Pacific and then come back here for a post-game wrap-up for anything you may have missed!

Tags: Joe Thornton Logan Couture Marc-Edouard Vlasic San Jose Sharks

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