Sharks-Blue Jackets: What to watch for

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Sharks-Blue Jackets: What to watch for

PROGRAMMINGALERT: Tune into Sharks Pregame Live on CSNBay Area at 3:30 p.m. and Sharks Postgame Live immediately after thegame.

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.

Ward's sacrifice keys 'bounce-back' game for Sharks

Ward's sacrifice keys 'bounce-back' game for Sharks

SAN JOSE – Joel Ward has been in the league long enough to know that the Sharks got outworked and outhustled in their decisive loss to the Blues on Saturday.

That could be why he put his body on the line in the second period against the Jets on Monday afternoon at SAP Center. Ward hustled to a loose puck along the wall with the Sharks holding a slim 1-0 lead and slipped it ahead to Chris Tierney, before getting absolutely plastered by Mark Stuart on a hit as big as you’ll see in today’s NHL.

While Ward was sluggish to get up as a result of his head bouncing off the ice surface, Tierney gave it to Timo Meier, who finished off a breakaway goal early in the second period.

While he was seeing stars from what he called a “clean hit,” Ward also heard the goal horn.

“I tried to get the puck out, obviously, and next thing I knew I was on my back and heard the horn go off,” he said. “I wasn’t too sure what happened after that.”

What happened was a 5-2 Sharks win, two days after one of their worst performances of the season, a 4-0 home defeat to St. Louis. San Jose withstood an early push by the visiting Jets but took over the game in the second period, particularly after Ward’s sacrifice.

"That's the commitment we talk about,” Pete DeBoer said. “Taking that hit, making that play, [Meier] scores the goal. We need that. Joel's a guy that brings that to the rink almost every night. That's what it's going to take at this time of year in order to have success."

In a rare afternoon start, the Sharks looked sleepy in the beginning. The Jets were the better team for the first few minutes, but Martin Jones made sure they didn’t get on the board. He made a key stop on a Shawn Matthias one-timer just 1:29 into the first period, and then bailed out David Schlemko on a defensive zone turnover a few minutes later, again denying Matthias.

The Sharks went to the penalty kill after Schlemko’s cross-checking minor at 11:39, but Ward scored 15 seconds after that, picking the corner over Michael Hutchinson for a pretty shorthanded marker. He correctly read a Justin Braun clearing attempt, when Braun rimmed it past Dustin Byfuglien, who couldn’t keep it in at the blue line. 

After that, “just kind of saw glove side and fired it there as quick as I could,” Ward said.

That led to a dominant second period for San Jose. Along with Meier’s goal, Brent Burns scored on a power play and the slumping Jets were noticeably deflated from there.

Jones said the Jets “came out real hard,” but, “that’s pretty much all [my teammates] needed from me today. You can’t really ask for much more than that from the guys. They put up five, and slowed down a pretty fast team.”

Tierney said: “Joner did a great job of keeping us in it and not giving up a goal there and putting us behind. After that, we kind of got it going a bit and started playing our game.”

There was even some late comedy. Trailing 4-1 at the time, Jets coach Paul Maurice decided to take Hutchinson out for an extra attacker. Jones noticed the empty net and was lining up a shot after he retrieved a dump-in. It didn’t go more than a foot in front of him, though, as Mark Scheifele blocked it and slipped it into an empty net.

Jones could be seen grinning through his mask, while Tierney said he was “laughing on the bench.”

“That’s the first time I’ve tried [shooting at an empty net], and probably the last, too,” Jones said.

In total, Monday's result offered quite the change in mood from Saturday’s whipping.

DeBoer said: “I don't think anyone in our room was happy with how last game went. It was a good bounce-back game."

“It was definitely good today to rebound, and get back to winning,” Ward said.

Instant Replay: Sharks offense comes to life, ground Jets 5-2

Instant Replay: Sharks offense comes to life, ground Jets 5-2

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE – Joel Ward had a goal and an assist, and survived a thundering hit in the second period, in helping the Sharks to a 5-2 win over Winnipeg on Monday afternoon at SAP Center.

Ward’s linemates Chris Tierney and Timo Meier also had a goal and assist each, as the Sharks snapped their modest two-game losing streak. Martin Jones made 26 saves in net.

Winnipeg lost its fourth in a row (0-3-1), getting swept on a three-game trip through California.

Leading 1-0 on Ward’s first period shorthanded score, San Jose took control in the middle frame.

Meier’s breakaway goal at 2:45 upped the lead to 2-0. Prior to the conversion, Ward was plowed by Winnipeg’s Mark Stuart at the defensive blue line, but managed to push the puck to Tierney in the neutral zone. Tierney’s lead pass found Meier streaking in, and the rookie deposited his first goal in 13 games and first since his NHL debut on Dec. 16 in Montreal.

Ward went to the dressing room, likely to be checked for a concussion after his head hit the ice, but returned later in the period.

Brent Burns’ power play goal gave the Sharks a three-goal cushion, when his shot went wide but rebounded off of the end boards and off of the back of goalie Michael Hutchinson’s skate at 7:08.

San Jose continued to press for the much of the remaining 13 minutes of the second period, outshooting the Jets 15-4.

Tierney added insurance with a wrist shot from the circle at 11:41 of the third, finding the puck after a Meier shot was blocked. It was his first in 14 games, and gave the Sharks a 4-0 lead.

Josh Morrissey’s goal at 17:24 ruined the shutout for Jones. Mark Scheifele scored with 15 seconds left to make it 4-2, after Jones blocked what looked like an attempt to shoot the puck into an empty net. An empty net goal by Joe Thornton capped the scoring.

After Winnipeg looked more assertive than San Jose in the opening minutes, Ward staked the Sharks the first period lead when his wrist shot found the top far corner at 11:54 of the first period. It was his fourth of the season, two of which have come shorthanded.

The Sharks have claimed both of their afternoon games this season, including a 3-2 win over the Islanders on Nov. 25.

San Jose visits Winnipeg on Jan. 24 and March 6, both of which will the second of a back-to-back for the visitors.

Special teams

The Sharks finished 1-for-4 on the power play, just their second such goal in the past seven games (2-for-17). The penalty kill was a perfect 2-for-2, coming on consecutive penalties to David Schlemko and Tierney just one minute and 45 seconds apart.

Ward’s shorthanded goal was the Sharks’ third of the season, two of which have come from the veteran forward.

Tierney’s high-sticking minor in the first period was his first penalty of the season in 44 games.

In goal

Jones made his biggest stop just a minute and a half into the game, swallowing a Shawn Matthias one-timer from the slot on a setup by Dustin Byfuglien. He denied Matthias a second time with 11:18 to go, just before Ward’s shorty.

Hutchinson took the loss with four goals allowed on 31 shots.

Lineup

The Sharks missed Joonas Donskoi for the second straight game with an upper body injury, although it doesn’t appear to be serious.

Winnipeg remains without rookie Patrick Laine, who began the day tied for the NHL rookie lead in goals (21) and points (37), due to a concussion suffered on Jan. 7.

San Jose reassigned defenseman Tim Heed and forward Ryan Carpenter to the Barracuda, presumably to play in their game later Monday night.

Up next

The Sharks close out their season series with the Kings on Wednesday night at Staples Center. San Jose won the first two, but Los Angeles swept a home-and-home on Dec. 31 and Jan. 3, the latter of which came in overtime in Southern California.