Surging Jets look to avoid letdown vs. Sharks

Jan 3, 2024, 8:25 PM | Updated: Jan 4, 2024, 10:27 am

Mario Ferraro #38 of the San Jose Sharks in action against the Winnipeg Jets at SAP Center on Decem...

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 12: Mario Ferraro #38 of the San Jose Sharks in action against the Winnipeg Jets at SAP Center on December 12, 2023 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Winnipeg Jets look to get the momentum rolling when they kick off a three-game trip against the struggling San Jose Sharks on Thursday.

The Jets, who are riding a three-game winning streak, are second in the Central Division and head to San Jose having earned a point in a franchise-record-tying nine consecutive games.

The Jets beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 at home on Tuesday to improve to 11-1-2 in their last 14 games.

“The guys have all bought in from Day 1, that’s what it is,” coach Rick Bowness said. “It’s just a complete buy-in from everybody. (Against Tampa) we were slow out of the gates, there’s no question, they were coming at us, but good teams find a way to win. … When we got our legs going and started to play Winnipeg Jets hockey, when we get committed to that, there’s not a team in this league we can’t beat.”

The last time the clubs met was Dec. 12 in San Jose, where the Sharks won 2-1. It is the lone regulation-time defeat for Winnipeg since the start of December and the last time the Sharks tasted victory.

The key to Winnipeg’s success is goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who has surrendered two or fewer goals in 14 of his last 15 starts thanks to stellar play and a strong team defense.

“We stick to our systems and … when we break down, Bucky bails us out,” defenseman Neal Pionk said. “Everything is kind of clicking right now five-on-five. I kind of compare it to shooting your low golf round of the year. Everything just clicks, you’re doing everything right. That’s kind of what we’re doing.”

The Sharks look to snap a nine-game skid after a disheartening 5-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.

It is the second consecutive defeat in which the last-place Sharks were tied with less than four minutes remaining in regulation only to surrender a late goal and an empty netter.

“It’s not quite 60 minutes yet for us,” coach David Quinn said, referring to his team’s inability to close out games. “It’s certainly a lot better but I’m tired of being ‘just better.’ That doesn’t matter. You want to win hockey games, and right now we’re not.”

The Sharks are on the verge of their second 10-game slide this season.

Making things more disappointing is how close the Sharks were to winning. San Jose even held a lead midway through the final frame Tuesday.

“It’s frustrating. You want to win those games when we give ourselves a chance,” goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen said. “It’s been a couple of games in a row now and we couldn’t get the job done.”

Maybe a clash with the Jets is the tonic. After all, some lower-echelon teams have an ability to beat a top-tier club regularly. Between the confidence of knowing they won the last meeting and their improved play of late, the Sharks are in a better place than they were during their season-opening slide.

“We look a lot different now,” said Quinn, who did find a positive among the recent losses. “A lot of those (early season) games, we were just hanging on. That’s not the case now.”

–Field Level Media

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