San Jose is off to its worst start in nine years and will look to avoid a sixth straight loss in New Jersey when the teams face off Friday night.
The Devils (3-1-0) needed 11 games last season to earn their third victory, part of a 9-22-2 start that led to the firing of rookie coach John MacLean.
They seem to be thriving under another new coach in Peter DeBoer, getting off to their best start since going 5-1-0 at the beginning of 2008-09. Kovalchuk scored a power-play goal in the third period Saturday, then added another in the shootout to lift New Jersey to a 3-2 win over Nashville.
The veteran winger had 60 points last season -- his fewest since scoring 51 as a rookie with Atlanta in 2001-02 -- but his four points (two goals, two assists) this season lead the Devils.
Kovalchuk played 32 minutes, 4 seconds on Saturday, marking the most ice time any NHL forward has logged in a regular-season game since Kovalchuk played 34 minutes, 5 seconds on April 2, 2004, while with Atlanta.
"For me, he's earning our trust as a guy we can use in a lot of different situations," DeBoer told the Devils' official website. "For me, through four games here, he's been out with the net empty at the other end in a 5-on-6 situation and got the job done. He obviously is dangerous every time he's on the ice."
Kovalchuk scored and added an assist in a 2-1 win over the Sharks on Feb. 11 in the last meeting between the teams.
San Jose (1-3-0) has lost eight of the last 10 matchups and hasn't won in New Jersey since a 3-2 victory Nov. 14, 2000. The Sharks will look to end that drought and avoid opening the season with four losses in five games for the first time since 2002-03.
They fell 3-2 to Anaheim on Monday, their third straight loss since a season-opening 6-3 win over Phoenix. Their last three goals have come from defensemen, as Brent Burns scored in a 4-2 loss to St. Louis on Saturday and added another Monday. Marc-Edouard Vlasic also scored against the Ducks.
San Jose has been outscored 8-4 during its skid.
"The offense isn't clicking for us just yet," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "Missed opportunities is the way I look at it."
Even with Martin Brodeur out for the next seven to 10 days with a right shoulder injury, it may not get much easier for the Sharks' offense given how well Devils backup Johan Hedberg has played.
Hedberg made 29 saves and two more in the shootout in the win over Nashville, improving to 3-0-0 with a 1.41 goals-against average.
Hedberg made 31 saves in the February meeting against San Jose, though he's only 1-3-0 with a 4.75 GAA in five career appearances against the Sharks.
Antti Niemi may get his second straight start after missing the first three games recovering from the removal of a cyst near his knee. He's 1-1-0 with a 1.46 GAA against New Jersey.
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