Both the San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens have reaped the benefits of strong special-teams performances lately, and each club looks to continue its success in that area Saturday night in a matchup at the Bell Centre.
After struggling through a season-worst 1-2-4 slump from Jan. 31-Feb. 15, San Jose (42-9-9) has responded by winning five of its last six to maintain its spot atop the Western Conference with 93 points, three more than Detroit, which plays Nashville on Saturday night.
Meanwhile, Montreal (33-22-7) -- fifth in the East's tight playoff picture -- had endured a 3-11-1 stretch from Jan. 20-Feb. 19 before winning its last three.
Each club's respective run has been fueled by effective play on special teams. The Sharks, second in the league with a 24.3 percent power-play percentage, scored both of its goals in Thursday night's 2-1 victory at Ottawa with the man advantage.
"Special teams are huge," said backup Brian Boucher, who finished with 23 saves. "If you can win the special-teams game, you're going to win a lot of hockey games and it seems like we've done that this year."
Taking advantage of a pair of infractions by Senators rookie defenseman Brian Lee, Milan Michalek scored his 17th at 11:26 of the second period while captain Patrick Marleau added his team-leading 34th goal 1:18 later to help the Sharks improve to 2-1-0 on their four-game swing.
San Jose now opposes the Canadiens, whose 83.0 penalty-killing percentage is tied for eighth in the NHL. Over the last six contests, Montreal has allowed opponents to convert just two of 27 power-play chances.
Montreal has killed off 14 straight power-play opportunities in winning its last two contests, stopping all eight -- including a pair of 5-on-3 advantages totaling 2 minutes, 15 seconds in the second period -- in a 4-3 overtime victory at Philadelphia on Friday night.
Recently acquired defenseman Mathieu Schneider's power-play tally at 3:21 in the extra period put the Canadiens in position to win four straight for the first time since Jan. 4-10.
"Special teams was the difference and they won it," Flyers coach John Stevens said.
Montreal is 10-for-24 (41.7 percent) in man-advantage situations over its last five contests. Though San Jose has killed off 83.5 percent of its penalties overall, it has allowed opponents to convert 12 of 44 power-play opportunities in its previous eight games.
Goaltending is sure to play a key role in continuing the clubs' special-teams success.
Evgeni Nabokov is likely to be back in net for the Sharks, seeking to rebound from a rare poor performance. He gave up four goals on 33 shots in Wednesday night's loss at Central Division-leading Detroit after allowing five goals combined in a personal four-game winning streak.
Nabokov, who made 27 saves in a 6-4 win over the Canadiens on March 3, is 4-2-0 in six career starts versus the Canadiens despite a 3.02 goals-against average.
Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau may again turn to backup Jaroslav Halak, who made 35 saves in beating Philadelphia and has a 1.97 GAA during Montreal's win streak. Halak has never faced the Sharks, but Carey Price is 0-4-1 with a 4.42 GAA in his last six games.
San Jose has won five of the last seven games between the teams, but Montreal is 8-2-0 with two ties in 12 all-time home games versus the Sharks.