The San Jose Sharks are the first team in NHL history to start consecutive seasons 6-0, but they're dealing with an unfortunate distraction as they attempt to continue their torrid pace.
The Dallas Stars proved last season they're also more than capable of being a hindrance to the Sharks.
Looking to move past a scary injury to defenseman Dan Boyle, San Jose on Thursday night visits a Stars team that took three of four in last season's series and shut down the Sharks' high-powered offense in Dallas.
A fast start is nothing new to San Jose (6-0-0), which won its first seven games following the 2012-13 lockout before losing 16 of its next 21 contests.
The Sharks have been even more dominant to begin 2013-14, outscoring opponents 30-9 while outshooting their foes by an outrageous 18.3 per contest - far and away the widest margin in the league.
The immediate focus going forward, though, is the health of Boyle, who was taken off on a stretcher during Tuesday's 6-2 win at St. Louis after a hit from behind by the Blues' Maxim Lapierre sent him face-first into the top of the boards.
Boyle was knocked unconscious and spent the evening at a St. Louis hospital before returning to San Jose on Wednesday. He won't play Thursday and could miss considerably more time, though Boyle said Wednesday he was feeling better.
The Sharks, however, weren't feeling great despite their fifth win by at least three goals.
"Your heart kind of drops,' said Joe Thornton, who had a goal and three assists. "It's tough seeing a teammate go down like that. We had to give a good effort for Dan (on Tuesday). I've never seen that before, you're just kind of sitting on the bench hoping Dan is OK. It takes a while to kind of get back focused again.'
San Jose won't have to search hard to find a defenseman to fill Boyle's spot. Brad Stuart is due back from a three-game suspension on Thursday, and he'll be paired with Matt Irwin, Boyle's traditional partner.
Dallas (2-3-0) seems like it'll have to seriously slow Thornton, Tomas Hertl and San Jose's dynamic offense if it's to have a chance Thursday. The Stars have scored just 11 goals in five games, and their six at even strength are the fewest in the Western Conference.
They did manage a season-high 41 shots Tuesday in a 3-2 loss to Colorado, the league's other unbeaten team. Coach Lindy Ruff hopes his Stars can be more successful finishing against San Jose - but he's most wary of what lurks up front.
"What I see there is depth of scoring, three lines that create a lot and a very good power play," Ruff told the Stars' official website. "They're a team a little bit like Colorado that has good speed up front and they are getting a little bit of creativity from that back end."
Dallas is letting up 34.2 shots per game - second-worst in the West - but it was able to contain San Jose's talented group of forwards last season. The Stars won three of the four meetings, holding the Sharks to a goal apiece in two wins at the American Airlines Center.
Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen (lower-body injury) isn't due to come off IR for at least one more game, so the Sharks likely will see Dan Ellis between the pipes.
San Jose has yet to give backup Alex Stalock his first career start - with good reason. Antti Niemi has posted a 1.50 goals-against average while starting all six games.
He's 6-2-2 with a 1.88 GAA in his last 10 starts versus Dallas.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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