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San Jose Sharks travel for matinee with Colorado Avalanche

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The San Jose Sharks better get their body clocks ready for an early contest. They will be welcomed in by the Colorado Avalanche for a game that starts at noon PST Saturday, January 4.

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If this game is half as entertaining as their first contest two weeks ago (San Jose's 5-4 shootout win Dec. 23), maybe the early time will give Eastern Time Zone fans a chance to see why the Western Conference is superior...that is to say other than seeing those teams beat their Eastern Conference competition. The pictured personnel match-ups and other factors show why these teams are among the NHL elite.

The Sharks and Avs were the fastest two teams out of the gate in the 2013-14 NHL season, and still are among the top-20 percent of the league in point percentage. Both are in dogfights to get home-ice advantage in even the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs because of the level of competition in the Western Conference.

San Jose has been hit hard with injuries: Martin Havlat, Tyler Kennedy and Tommy Wingels join injured reserve forwards Raffi Torres, Adam Burish and Tomas Hertl as out Saturday according to CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz. Colorado is missing Alex Tanguay and PA Parenteau.

Both teams are coming off wins Thursday. The Sharks are 11-8-3 on the road and have won five of six, though three of them came in a shootout. They have a 26-9-6 record half-way through the 2013-14 NHL season, good for 58 points.

The Avs are 14-5-2 at home and have earned at least one point in nine of their last 11 games. They are one game short of their mid-point with a 25-11-4 record and 54 points.

Both teams have earned the right to be considered Stanley Cup contenders. These are the kinds of games that prepare teams for the playoffs. A win over another elite Western Conference team makes a statement about where a team is at as it enters the second half of the 2013-14 NHL season.