The San Jose Sharks finished November with five straight home wins and eight victories in nine games overall. That streak is on the line when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs at 4:00 p.m. PST Tuesday, December 3.
Aside from the pictured personnel disadvantage, the Maple Leafs are not moving in the same direction. After going 10-4-0 in October, they were 4-6-3 in November and just 1-3-2 over their last six.
The more significant thing is that the Sharks are 12-0-1 with Brent Burns in the lineup. His return directly coincides with their current winning streak, and leaves Raffi Torres as the only important player still missing.
Toronto coach Randy Carlyle certainly knows how to game-plan San Jose from his time in Anaheim. His ability even with this team was proven when he had them in position to win their first Stanley Cup playoff in years and with the Ducks in 2007 when winning it all.
He will need everything he has to combat the Sharks, the leading team in the NHL with a .788 point percentage. Objects with force moving forward do not usually lose a collision with objects moving backward. If it is going to happen, three time zones ahead of their body clock provides them an opportunity.
Yet Toronto is very much in the picture of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. They have the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference and would currently qualify for the postseason. Meanwhile, the top four teams in the NHL are in the Western Conference, leaving San Jose to contend with three other teams that have a point percentage above .750.
That makes it an urgent game for both teams. Their unfamiliarity with one another opens the door for a wider number of possible results, but Toronto is clearly still the underdog.