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Sharks return home from road trip to take on Panthers

Coming off a less than successful road trip, the San Jose Sharks are focused on improving their play at home to maintain their grip on the Pacific Division lead.

After salvaging a win in the finale of their East Coast swing, the Sharks return to SAP Center to face the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.

The Sharks (34-18-5) are back in northern California for the first time since Feb. 4, hoping to avoid their third loss in four home games. Still, San Jose is 18-7-2 overall at home and 16-0-2 there when holding opponents to two goals or less.

The Panthers are in the bottom third of the league with an average of 2.41 goals per game on the road.

San Jose also is looking to sweep the series for the second straight season. The Sharks rallied from an early two-goal deficit to defeat Florida 4-2 on Nov. 10 behind two goals from Brent Burns.

Burns was key to San Jose picking up the lone victory on its four-game trip through the northeast. He scored twice -- including the winning goal -- in Sunday's 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils.

Burns appears to be running away with the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman. However, his offensive output could put him in line for a rare feat.

Burns leads all blue-liners with 24 goals and his 59 points place him fourth overall in scoring. The only defenseman to lead the NHL in scoring was Bobby Orr with 135 points -- 46 goals and 89 assists -- in 1974-75 with the Boston Bruins.

"He's dominant," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer told the league's official website. "He's having a dominant year He's obviously a huge part of our team. ... There's no doubt he's as dominant a guy night in, night out as anyone in the (league) right now.

"He is getting better. ... This year, he's got another layer to his game, I think, in both ends of the rink and another layer of confidence in what he can do."

Burns has eight goals and 15 assists in 27 home games, and just one goal at SAP Center since Dec. 10. In four career home games against the Panthers while with the Sharks, Burns has two multipoint games and has totaled two goals and three assists.

Patrick Marleau failed to get a point against the Devils, ending a nine-game points streak. Still, the 19-year veteran leads the league with eight goals and is tied for second in the league with 13 points since Jan. 23.

Marleau has four goals and four points in his last six home games against the Panthers.

Florida (24-20-10) opened a five-game road trip with a 7-4 win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday. It was the Panthers' fourth win in five games after losing four straight in western Canada and Arizona.

For Panthers coach and general manager Tom Rowe, the plan moving forward is simple.

" ... We're going to worry about San Jose and we're not thinking one day beyond that. That's the approach," he told the league's official website. "I told the guys the other piece of the puzzle is if you get 10 minutes a night, 18 minutes a night or five minutes a night we need everybody bought in to playing their role, giving us quality minutes, and if you're a healthy scratch, you can't be hanging your head, you have to be thinking about the team first."

Regardless of how many minutes he plays, Jaromir Jagr, who turns 45 on Wednesday, is on the cusp of yet another milestone.

Now in his 23rd season, Jagr needs one point to reach 1,900 for his career. However, the NHL's second leading scorer of all time has been held without a point in five straight games in San Jose after a three-point effort in March 2002 during a game while with the Washington Capitals.

While largely disappointing and dealing with some turmoil behind the bench after putting up 103 points and winning the Atlantic Division last season, the Panthers are among eight teams currently out of the playoff mix but still have a legitimate chance of reaching the postseason.

Having Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov back in the lineup may ultimately be the difference that pushes Florida back into the playoffs.

Huberdeau has two goals and three assists in three games after missing 51 with a severed Achilles tendon. He set career highs with 20 goals and 59 points in 2015-16.

"I feel like it could take some time to really get back," Huberdeau told the Miami Herald. "I have to be patient a little, get into it. But I feel pretty good actually, in the first three games."

Barkov has two goals and an assist in three games after missing 15 with an upper-body injury. He is one of four Panthers with at least 30 points this season, joining Jagr, Jonathan Marchessault and Vincent Trocheck.

Huberdeau has two assists in three games at SAP Center. Barkov was held without a point during his only game in San Jose in 2014.

In other news, Sharks forward Joonas Donskoi is expected to miss the next three games before the team's bye week, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Donskoi has sat out nine games since suffering the injury on Jan. 23 and isn't expected back until at least Feb. 25 against the Vancouver Canucks. Donskoi has six goals and nine assists in 44 games.

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