San Jose has collected at least 99 points in each of the last six seasons, but has never made it to the Stanley Cup finals. They did reach the conference finals last spring, only to be swept in four straight by eventual champion Chicago. The Sharks didn?t make any major additions this summer, so they?ll give the same core at least one more chance to make a title run.
2009-10 Record: 51-20-11, 113 points (first in Pacific Division; first in Western Conference; lost in conference finals to Chicago, 4-0)
Bruins record vs. Sharks: Boston leads the all-time series 15-6-5-0, and the Bruins won the only meeting last year 2-1 in a shootout in San Jose on Jan. 14 as Tim Thomas made 41 saves, then stopped all four Sharks attempts in the shootout.
When to watch: The Sharks come to town on Saturday, Feb. 5, for a matinee clash at the Garden. The Bruins do not play in San Jose this season.
Familiar faces: All eyes will be on former Bruins captain Joe Thornton when he makes just his third return to Boston since the infamous 2005 trade. Defenseman Jay Leach will make a less-heralded return.
The Providence College product played parts of four seasons in the Bruins' system, serving as captain in the AHL in Providence and playing his first two NHL games in Boston in 2005-06. The Sharks have also mined the local area extensively in recent drafts. They have 11 players currently in their system who either hail from New England or played collegiately here, led by forward Benn Ferriero (Essex, Mass./Boston College), who was up for 24 games last season, and 2010 first-round pick Charlie Coyle (Weymouth, Mass.).
Key additions: G Antero Niittymaki (free agent); F Jamal Mayers (free agent); F T.J. Trevelyan (free agent)
Key losses: D Rob Blake (retired); G Evgeni Nabokov (signed with St. Petersburg/KHL); F Brad Staubitz (traded to Minnesota); F Manny Malhotra (signed with Vancouver); F Jed Ortmeyer (free agent)
Burning question: Can the Sharks succeed in the playoffs?
Few teams can match the consistent success San Jose has enjoyed in the regular season in the last decade, but so far all those wins and gaudy stats haven?t translated to any championships. Is this a team built to survive the grind of the postseason when the intensity is ratcheted up and there?s less room for the stars to operate?
Plenty has been made of Thornton?s struggles in the postseason, though he?s been decent in San Jose (47 points in 56 games, including 12 in 15 games last year). Still, neither he nor fellow stars Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley have proven they can carry a team when it matters most. The defense does have a pair of Cup winners in Dan Boyle and Kent Huskins, but with the Sharks going the inexpensive route in goal by signing Niittymaki, it will be up to the offense to power the club in the playoffs, and so far that hasn?t been a winning recipe.
2010-11 outlook: The Sharks can match anybody in the league in talent on their top two lines with Thornton (20-69-89), Marleau (44-39-83), Heatley (39-43-82), Ryan Clowe (19-38-57), Joe Pavelski (25-26-51, plus 17 points in 15 playoff games) and Devin Setoguchi (20-16-36). The bottom six is filled with youngsters and veteran journeymen, while the defense will have to overcome the retirement of Rob Blake. Boyle (15-43-58), underrated Marc-Edouard Vlasic and hard-hitting Doug Murray will have to pick up the slack on the blue line, while the Sharks? hopes may rest on the ability of Niittymaki to rise to the occasion after San Jose decided to let Evgeni Nabokov leave.
Did you know? This year?s meeting between the Sharks and Bruins will give Boston fans a rare glimpse of their former franchise player. It?s been nearly five years since Thornton was dealt to San Jose for Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau, but the memory of that ill-fated trade remains fresh. In those five years, Thornton has returned to the Garden just twice. The first appearance lasted just a few shifts, as he was tossed for checking Hal Gill from behind just 5:13 into the first period of San Jose?s 6-2 win on Jan. 10, 2006. Thornton scored a goal in his only other trip back, helping the Sharks win 5-2 on Feb. 10, 2009.
Next: We?ll head north of the border to begin our look at the Northwest Division by checking in on the Calgary Flames on Saturday.