SAN JOSE – Despite the much-needed win against Colorado on Tuesday, the Sharks will make a couple of changes to their lineup for their home matchup against the Red Wings on Thursday at HP Pavilion.
First, Ryane Clowe will get back in after sitting out two games with a suspension. From the look of practice on Wednesday and Thursday’s morning skate, Clowe will be on the wing with center Michal Handzus. The other winger is likely, but not confirmed, to be Tim Kennedy.
“[Handzus] is a very smart hockey player. I’m not sure who’s going to be on the left side, but it will be fun,” Clowe said.
It will certainly be more fun than watching in the press box, after Clowe had to miss Saturday’s game in Dallas, as well, for coming off of the bench to engage Chicago’s Andrew Shaw last Friday in a 2-1 loss to the Blackhawks.
Clowe is still searching for his first goal to go along with six assists in the first 16 games. The time off could work to his benefit, according to head coach Todd McLellan.
“He skated aggressively, he practiced hard, he watched his shifts from games before; a lot of times you don’t have the have the time to do that when you’re playing,” McLellan said. “He was able to sit up top and watch the game evolve, and look at what is working and what isn’t working. I guess based on that explanation, I think it can really help him. He’ll have to do something with that and put it into play, though.”
Clowe downplayed any potential positives from the suspension.
“For me, it’s only two days. It’s not like I missed a couple weeks, or anything. I’ve got a couple practices in, so I’ll try to approach it the same way I approached the last week or so before I got suspended,” he said.
The other change will come on the blue line. Matt Irwin, who was recalled on Monday but did not suit up for Tuesday’s game after playing three games in three nights for Worcester over the weekend, will return paired with Dan Boyle.
Irwin played in nine of the Sharks’ first 10 games before he was reassigned, with a goal and an assist. He averaged nearly 19 minutes a game.
The Sharks’ defense has just 20 points as a group this season, the second-fewest in the league. At the same time, San Jose is still fifth in the league in goals-against per game (2.17).
“We’ve got to take care of our own end first, and we’ve been doing a good job at that,” Irwin said. “It’s cliché, but good defense creates offense. I think we’ve got to step up, join the rush, and get pucks through to the net and help our forwards jam away.”
While he was back in Worcester, Irwin said he watched just about every Sharks game, as San Jose's recent road trip featured a number of reasonable East Coast start times. He was asked if he saw anything different between the team now, and the one that got off to such an impressive early start.
“Getting pucks to the net, we were doing a real good job at that in the first couple of games,” Irwin said. “The goals we were scoring were right around the crease. You’ve got to be lucky, too, those pucks just squirt out and land on someone’s stick and it’s an open net. It didn’t seem like we were getting those bounces in the one-goal games.
“Defense has been good as a whole, and we just have to help out creating some offense now.”
Barring any last minute changes, the odd man out will be Jason Demers, who remained on the ice much later than his teammates on Thursday. Demers has been a healthy scratch five times this season. Up front, Andrew Desjardins will likely sit to make room for Clowe’s return.
Antti Niemi will make his seventh straight start, facing Detroit’s Jonas Gustavsson. Niemi is a career 8-2-1 against Detroit, with a 2.07 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.
Gustavsson, who signed a two-year contract with the Red Wings as a free agent in the offseason, has played in 109 career NHL games but has never made an appearance against the Sharks. Regular starter Jimmy Howard played on Monday night in a 2-1 loss to the Kings at Staples Center.