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Behind Enemy Lines: San Jose Sharks Look to Repeat as Western Conference Champions

The Sharks ride a three-game winning streak into Raleigh to face the Hurricanes tonight.

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Florida Panthers Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The San Jose Sharks finally broke through last year, winning the Western Conference after years of falling just short, and are looking to build off that success this season. So far, so good: the Sharks are currently one point behind the Edmonton Oilers for first place in the Pacific Division. This division has seen the most change of any in the NHL, but the Sharks have carried their success over into the 2016-2017 season.

The Sharks have relied heavily on their defense and goaltender Martin Jones through the first 15 games of the season. Jones has played in all but one game for the Sharks, earning an 8-6-0 record with a .913 save percentage and a 2.20 goals-against average. He has been helped in large part by the Sharks allowing the fewest shots against per game in the league. On average San Jose only lets up 25.2 shots on goal per game, meaning Jones isn’t having to stand on his head every night.

The Sharks are led by a veteran core of players including Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, and captain Joe Pavelski. All three of those players have served as the Sharks’ captain at points in the past. After a rocky transition a couple of years ago, both Thornton and Marleau have put their egos aside and help contribute to a successful locker room despite being stripped of their captaincies.

This core has still been producing at a top level despite their age. Thornton and Pavelski are averaging over a point per 60 minutes, and all three are above 53% in Corsi-for percentages. They are a major reason why the team is possessing the puck 52.6% of the time and have the third best penalty kill unit in the league at 89.2%, just behind the Hurricanes at 90.2%.

Defenseman Brent Burns continues to be one of the top-performing blueliners in the NHL. The Norris Trophy finalist from a year ago leads the Sharks in even strength scoring, with 2.56 points per 60 minutes. To put that into perspective, Jeff Skinner leads the Hurricanes with 2.65 even strength points per 60 minutes—and he’s a forward.

The Sharks’ visit to Raleigh is the fourth game in a six-game road trip. The road has been kind to the Sharks: they are currently riding a three-game win streak, including a shutout win over the Capitals last Tuesday and a Florida sweep over the Panthers and Lightning.

This is the Sharks’ only trip to North Carolina this season. The return match between the teams will be in San Jose on December 10th. The Canes and Sharks split the season series last season, each team winning on home ice, but the Canes own a slight advantage with an 18-16-0 lead in the all-time series. The Canes are looking to add to their series lead and end the Sharks’ road win streak tonight.