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COLUMBUS The Blue Jackets may be mired in last place with no hope for the postseason, but after the Sharks beat them in a hard fought game earlier this month, San Jose knows it cant take Columbus lightly.
Especially after a coaching change may have given the Blue Jackets some much needed energy.
It was pretty chippy and a physical game, said Michal Handzus of the Sharks 2-1 win on Jan. 5 at HP Pavilion. Were going to expect it to be even more physical because they play at home, and obviously they played last night and they won, so their confidence is going to be high. I think theyre going to come out flying.
The Blue Jackets beat the Coyotes on Friday night here at Nationwide Arena, 4-3.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan was asked if hes noticed any difference in the Blue Jackets game since Todd Richards took over on Monday for the fired Scott Arniel.
They looked like a lot of teams do when a coach is relieved of his duties. They looked a little bit energized and a little bit refreshed, McLellan said. Thats a common characteristic of a team that happens to.
I equate it to a young player getting called up. You can get that from them for the first five or six games, at games seven through 10, are they still energized and doing what they need to do? Were in that early phase against this team tonight, and well have our hands full because of it.
Greiss starts: Thomas Greiss wont have to wait nearly as long between starts this time, as hell spell Antti Niemi tonight once again against Columbus. Greiss made 23 saves in the Sharks win over the Blue Jackets less than 10 days ago.
Its pretty nice. Im excited to play again, he simply said on Saturday morning.
As for that last game against the Blue Jackets?
They had a couple good chances at the start and then we shut it down I think, and played very well, he said.
Niemi had started 13 straight games before January 5 against Columbus. McLellan said this morning that Greiss previous strong effort against the Blue Jackets, combined with a game against the high-flying Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, factored into his decision.
Curtis Sanford is expected to start for the Blue Jackets. He made 37 saves against San Jose in the loss on Jan. 5.
Improving PK: Its been a sore spot for the Sharks most of the season, but after killing off both Winnipeg power plays in the 2-0 victory there on Thursday, San Jose is 28-for-32 in the last 11 games (87.5 percent).
Handzus, a key penalty killer, was asked if that unit is gaining confidence.
Its been getting better. Weve been killing them, and I think with the structure, we play as a unit of four, he said. Its always like that when you get a couple good kills and dont give up the chances. The confidence goes up. We have to keep going, emphasize what were doing right, keep it in mind and going the same way.
Should the recent success be attributed to changes in the system, personnel or execution?
All three, I believe, MeLellan said. Systematic changes, personnel, somewhat who we use but the rotation of them and who theyre partnered with. A stronger confidence in it. The goaltending has been better in that situation, as well. Were happy where were at there and going to continue to try and improve.
Shooting stars: We touched on this a bit yesterday, but the Sharks are on a notable run when it comes to shots on goal. They have 35 or more in 11 straight games, the longest such streak of its kind in the NHL since the 1983-84 season.
San Jose leads the league with an even 35.0 shots per game. McLellan was asked about his philosophy in that department after todays morning skate.
I believe that you break defenses down by shooting the puck, he said. Players have to turn and go back to their net, they get drawn out of position, and you dont often score on the first one but its the opportunity on the second or third. Volume is very important, and quality is very important.
When youre winning the majority of your faceoffs, you tend to get a shot on goal off of it. We saw that in Winnipeg the other night. Its all intertwined. Just about everybody has agreed to it and taken their shot totals up.
Bottom six: McLellan was unhappy with his bottom six forwards after the 5-4 shootout loss to Minnesota to start the trip, but as much as he was ticked off after that game, he was just as pleased after the game in Winnipeg.
Torrey Mitchell knows the effort that his line, and the fourth line, gave in Winnipeg will have to be duplicated on a nightly basis.
McLellan met with us, the bottom six forwards, before the Winnipeg game. It wasnt about scoring goals, it was about doing the little things, Mitchell said. Finishing your checks, trying to create momentum for the top two lines, draw penalties and obviously penalty kill. We did those things, and those little details really well, and it was a really complete game that way.
Odds and ends: Tonight marks the midway point of the regular season for the Sharks. The Blue Jackets are without Radek Martinek, Jeff Carter, Mark Letestu, Kristian Huselius, James Wisniewski and R.J. Umberger. The Sharks are 5-0-1 in their last six games. Rick Nash has three goals in the last three games.