It's a new year, but the Tampa Bay Lightning are doing the same old thing they did in 2018.
Being the NHL's best club.
As teams hit the halfway point of the 2018-19 campaign, the sizzling Lightning (32-7-2, 66 points) keep getting hotter and hotter with their top players still performing among the league's best and the power play continuing to click.
Tampa Bay is riding a spectacular 15-0-1 record and 16-game point streak dating back to Nov. 29, did not lose in regulation in December, and is 18-1-1 in its last 20 contests.
While road trips in different time zones can wear on clubs, nothing changed when the NHL's top team embarked on a three-game West Coast road swing. Tampa Bay posted 2-1 and 6-2 wins over the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, respectively, this week.
The Lightning, who have won seven straight, conclude the trip with what should be their toughest test on Saturday, facing the San Jose Sharks (22-13-7, 51 points) at SAP Center.
Tampa Bay has plenty of reasons - more like plenty of elite offensive talent - to be optimistic as its group prepares to play the Sharks, currently third in the Pacific Division.
Nikita Kucherov, the league's top scorer with 69 points and riding a 12-game point streak, recorded his 20th goal of the season and 400th career point as Tampa Bay scored twice on first-period 5-on-3 power plays in building a 3-0 lead over the Kings on Thursday.
Brayden Point (54 points) and Steven Stamkos (46) round out the trio of 20-goal scorers, and Stamkos, whose 23 goals trail Point by just one, said he and his teammates are having fun at the rink.
"We have a pretty unique nucleus in terms of guys that have been here for a while and then you add in the skill set, you add in the leadership qualities that are within this room, it's one of the best I've ever played with," the Lightning captain told the media.
"You put all of those things together and you just don't get complacent, especially when you're on a stretch like this."San Jose is also rolling right now, going 2-1-0 on its recent road trip and 10-3-2 in its last 15 games.
The trip ended with a 5-4 win against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on Wednesday, and the Sharks' lone loss was an 8-5 defeat to the high-scoring Calgary Flames on New Year's Eve.
The club will welcome the return home to Northern California, and despite the winning ways that began 15 games ago in a 3-1 win in Montreal on Dec. 2, the Sharks have given up 30 total goals in their last seven contests.
San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said his team's defensive setbacks may stem from taking chances to increase offense.
"We're still giving up a little too much. The offense is a result of us being a little bit loose and we're cheating a little bit and giving up an extra half goal a night," DeBoer said.
"We've done a better job of walking that line the last 25 games. ...We can score goals, but we've got to find that balance."
San Jose suffered a pair of injuries to its defensive corps as Marc-Edouard Vlasic (wrist) and Justin Braun (knee) were both injured against the Avs. The team is already playing without Radim Simek (concussion).
Updated January 4, 2019