SHARKS (4-3-0) at RED WINGS (5-2-0)
TV: NHLN-US, CSN-California (HD), FS-Detroit
Season series: Friday's game is the first of four meetings between the Red Wings and Sharks, who won three of four regular-season matchups in 2010-11. The Sharks also eliminated the Wings from the Stanley Cup playoffs last season, beating Detroit in Round 2 for the second consecutive year. Joe Thornton has five goals and four assists in his last six regular-season games against the Red Wings and added six assists against them in the postseason.
Big Story: These rivals meet for the first time since San Jose edged the Wings 3-2 in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals last spring. For Detroit, this game is not about redemption though; it's about getting back on track after back-to-back losses in which the Wings have been outscored 11-2. The Wings had won five in a row to begin the season before a 7-1 drubbing in Washington and a 4-1 loss in Columbus, the Blue Jackets' first win in nine games this season.
The first line of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Danny Cleary has become a point of concern for coach Mike Babcock, who used six different line combinations in an attempt to mix things up. The three forwards have combined for just three goals and six assists in the first seven games.
"When I looked at my sheet after the game, I had six sets, so that's a problem," Babcock told the team's Web site. "That means nothing is going right. So we have to figure it out. I had (Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Cleary) together in practice [Thursday], but it really doesn't matter much. So I'll think about that tonight and decide what I'm doing for [Friday]."
Sharks: With wins in New Jersey, Boston and Nashville, the Sharks are perfect on their current six-game road trip, the second-longest of their season. Their play has picked up since Antti Niemi made his season debut on Oct. 17. The Finnish netminder missed the first three games as he recovered from a procedure to have a cyst removed from his knee. Niemi has posted a 1.95 goals-against average in the three wins, and other key San Jose players have stepped up as well. In the Sharks' latest win -- a 3-1 victory over the Predators on Tuesday -- Joe Pavelski scored two goals, including the game-winner. Thornton notched his 700th career assist on Pavelski's second goal of the game and sixth of the season.
"It's a good number, but it doesn't mean anything right now," Pavelski said of his early-season tallies. "When you suit up for the next game, the number of goals you have don't matter. It's about production and in the moment and not getting ahead of yourself. Hopefully, I'll keep getting chances and just keep building."
Red Wings: The Red Wings hope a return to the Motor City means a return to their winning ways, as they play seven of their next eight at home. They are already guaranteed one return as Jimmy Howard will be back in goal on Friday after missing the last two games due to the birth of his first child. The 27-year-old goalie is 4-0-0 with a 1.72 GAA on the season. He'll need some smarter hockey from his teammate -- Detroit took a season-high seven penalties in Columbus and R.J. Umberger scored 21 seconds into the game to send the Jackets on their way.
"There's no excuse for what happened tonight," Babcock said after the game. "I wasn't very impressed. There weren't a whole lot of guys who were really jumping for us tonight. As a coaching staff, we're supposed to have the guys ready, and we weren't -- as a team we weren't ready to go. Why is that? "
Who's Hot: Pavelski has four goals and two assists during San Jose's winning streak, though hasn't scored in his last eight regular-season games against Detroit. Thornton has a four-game point streak (1 goal, 5 assists) and Logan Couture has goals in back-to-back games and points in three straight. Since making his Sharks debut on Oct. 21, Martin Havlat has an assist in each of his three games played.
Injury Report: Defenseman Mike Commodore still hasn't played for Detroit because of a knee injury. …For San Jose, Antero Niittymaki (hip), Alex Stalock (knee) and Frazer McLaren (hip) are on IR, while forward Torrey Mitchell has missed the last two games after sustaining an upper-body injury against the Devils.
Stat Pack: Friday's game features the two busiest shooting teams in the League. San Jose leads the NHL with 38.4 shots per game, while Detroit is second, averaging 36.1 shots. … Niemi is 5-1-1 with a 1.97 GAA in the regular season against Detroit.
Puck Drop: Following practice on Wednesday, Babcock told the team's Web site that he "did the sleep test" with less than stellar results.
"I went to sleep, I was bitter. And I woke up and I was still bitter. Normally, the sun gets up and I'm having a good day. I bounce back real quick…It took me a little longer today."
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