Sharks-Blues: What to watch for

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Sharks-Blues: What to watch for

ST. LOUIS A visit to the Scottrade Center in St. Louis is one heck of a way to start a nine-game road trip.

The Blues have collected points in 18 straight home games (15-0-3), and are 22-3-4 overall here. That includes a 1-0 win over the Sharks on Dec. 10, and a 3-2 overtime victory against the Colorado Avalanche last night.

If theyve got a streak going like that you want to break it, and be the team that breaks it, said Logan Couture on Sunday morning after the Sharks skate. Were looking at two points in the standings that we need to move up.

We know theyre good at home, Joe Pavelski said. Theyre a good team. They play hard, and its going to be a good challenge.

The Blues are among the surprise teams in the league this year, and are challenging for the top spot in the Western Conference with 73 points (37-17-2) just three behind the Detroit Red Wings, with whom they have two games in hand.

The Sharks (30-16-6, 66 points) are looking for back-to-back wins after beating the Blackhawks at home on Friday night.

Mistake-free hockey: The Sharks played a strong first and third period against Chicago, and it was the reason they were able to come away with a 5-3 victory (as was the power play, which finished 3-for-6).

It was the second period they would like to forget, though, as they saw a 2-0 lead evaporate and were outshot 17-3 by the Blackhawks.

Limiting mistakes with the puck, something that Sharks had trouble with in their two losses to Phoenix and Calgary in the games immediately preceding the Chicago win, is paramount against the opportunistic Blues.

I would say essential against this team, Todd McLellan agreed. However, "you cant be mistake-free and go out there thinking or being apprehensive about making mistakes. You have to be allowed to make some. Thats why there are four other guys on the ice to cover up for you and help out. But, its about overall game management. When they spend time in the offensive zone they are a big, strong team that cycles well and we have to turn the tide on them and force them to play in their own zone with that type of game.

If we play our second period against Chicago, we wont win. If we play the other two periods, well give ourselves a chance.

Getting back to the power play, that's one area the Sharks may have a distinct advantage. San Jose is 10-for-22 in the last eight games and 8-for-17 in the last five. St. Louis is 27th in the NHL in power play percentage at just 13.7 percent.

Good road game: Teams and coaches often preach of playing a good road game when not in the friendly confines of their own building.

What exactly does that mean?

When youre on the road youre a little bit more patient with the puck at times, Pavelski said. Youre not pressing to do something, and can play a little bit more boring style. That being said, were trying to accomplish the same exact things.

Establishing yourself right off the bat that youre going to compete hard and play is a big thing, McLellan said. You always like to play with the lead, so getting the first one is important, but not essential. Playing a clich simple, smart game.

In fact, that Sharks werent overly displeased with their game in the 1-0 loss here on Dec. 10, which was a tight-checking affair that McLellan and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock described afterwards as having a playoff-type feel.

It wasnt the most entertaining game as a spectator, but thats due in part to St. Louis style of play.

They give up very, very little, McLellan said. We talk about our number being three goals, but they can get to two and still win. Ive heard Hitch talk about checking for chances, and thats where most of their opportunities come from.
View from above: The Sharks got to St. Louis yesterday afternoon, providing the coaching staff an opportunity to watch the Blues home win over Colorado from the press box.

McLellan was asked about that experience, and if it can help him at all in his preparation for tonight.

Its just different when youre up there. You get another dimension to the game, he said. When youre at ice level its much faster but everything is at eye-level, too. Youve got to look through the trees and the forest. When youre up there, youre looking down on the forest. Its way easier to play from up there that it is down here.
Niemi in goal again: Antti Niemi will make the start for the Sharks, and is expected to face Jaroslav Halak after Brian Elliot went last night for the Blues.

Niemi is 4-3 with a 2.60 goals-against average in his career against the Blues, while Halak is just 2-2 with a 3.17 GAA and .911 SP vs. San Jose.

Both Blues netminders have impressive numbers this season, though. Elliott, an All-Star, leads the NHL with a 1.63 GAA and .939 SP (tied with Henrik Lundqvist), but Halaks stat line (2.04, .919) isnt far off. Elliott shut out the Sharks in Dec. 10 with 24 saves.

As a team, the Blues allow the fewest goals-per game in the NHL (1.94). The Sharks are fifth at 2.33 per game.

That could afford Thomas Greiss the opportunity to play in Washington on Monday night when the Sharks visit the Capitals. Greiss last appeared in a 5-2 win against Dallas on Feb. 2.

Odds and ends: Look for Jim Vandermeer to play at forward tonight in place of John McCarthy, as he skated there during practice while McCarthy was on the ice late. Blues forward Andy McDonald, who has missed the last 51 games with a concussion, was activated before the game. Logan Couture has an eight-game scoring streak (5g, 7a); Joe Thornton a five-game streak (4g, 5a); and Burns (8a) and Clowe (1g, 5a) have four-game streaks. The Blues are 2-0 against San Jose, including a 4-2 win at HP Pavilion on Oct. 15. David Perron has five goals in his last three games, including two against the Avalanche last night. Jason Demers (lower body) and Tommy Wingels (left shoulder) remain out, although both are expected to play on the road trip at some point.

NHL Gameday: Offense-starved Sharks look for boost from rookie vs 'Canes

NHL Gameday: Offense-starved Sharks look for boost from rookie vs 'Canes

Programming note – Sharks-Hurricanes coverage starts today at 7:00 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 15-10-1, 31 points, 4th Pacific Division
Hurricanes: 11-10-6, 28 points, 7th Metropolitan Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***There’s a strong chance that Aaron Dell will start in net tonight, in the second of a back-to-back. On Nov. 15 in Carolina, Dell made 32 saves but got no goal support in a 1-0 Hurricanes win over San Jose. Coach Pete DeBoer said on Friday before the Ducks game that he “hadn’t even thought” about who would start on Saturday, and with no morning skate, we won’t know until closer to game time.

Dell is 2-1-0 with a 1.93 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in four games this season.

***The Sharks are concluding a stretch tonight of eight games out of 10 in their own building, where they are 9-4-0 on the season. A four-game road trip begins on Tuesday in Toronto.

Carolina is wrapping up a three-game trip through California, losing to the Ducks in a shootout on Wednesday, 6-5, and beating the Kings on Thursday, 3-1.

***Carolina brings the NHL’s best penalty kill into the game, allowing just six goals on 75 chances (92.0 percent). San Jose has one power play goal in six of its last nine games (6-for-26, 23.0 percent), not including Brent Burns’ score on Friday, which came just one second after a power play had expired.

***San Jose has two or fewer goals in nine of its last 12 games, going 6-5-1 over that span. Of their 27 goals during that time, nearly half of them have come from Logan Couture (7g) and Burns (6g).

Burns brings a three-game goal streak into tonight’s game.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Kevin Labanc. The rookie forward, who turns 21 on Monday, scored against the Ducks on Friday for his third in 14 games. All three of Labanc’s goals have either tied the game or put San Jose ahead. The Sharks are desperately looking for players other than their stars to put the puck in the net, and Labanc seems to be gaining confidence after a brief stint in the AHL last weekend. 

Hurricanes: Teuvo Teravainen. Acquired from Chicago in the offseason, the 22-year-old center recorded his first career multi-goal game with Carolina on Wednesday in Anaheim. The18th overall pick in the 2012 draft, and a Finland native, has seven goals and 12 points in 27 games.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Patrick Marleau – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Kevin Labanc – Logan Couture – Joel Ward
Mikkel Boedker – Chris Tierney – Joonas Donskoi
Micheal Haley – Tommy Wingels – Melker Karlsson

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – Dylan DeMelo

Aaron Dell (likely starter)
Martin Jones

Hurricanes
Jeff Skinner – Victor Rask – Phil DiGiuseppe
Sebastian Aho – Teuvo Teravainen – Lee Stempniak
Brock McGinn – Derek Ryan – Andrej Nestrasil
Joakim Nordstrom – Jay McClement – Viktor Stalberg

Ron Hainsey – Justin Faulk
Jaccob Slavin – Brett Pesce
Noah Hanifin – Matt Tennyson

Cam Ward
Eddie Lack

INJURIES/SCRATCHES

Sharks: David Schlemko (right ankle) is questionable. Tomas Hertl (right knee sprain) is out.

Hurricanes: Elias Lindholm (lower body) is day-to-day. Bryan Bickell (MS), Jordan Staal (concussion) are out.

QUOTEABLE

“If we keep playing our game, we feel confident. We’re not giving up a whole lot. Moments in the season like this you’ve got to push through.” – Joe Pavelski, after the Sharks’ 3-2 loss in Anaheim on Friday

Three takeaways: Labanc creating offense for Sharks

Three takeaways: Labanc creating offense for Sharks

ANAHEIM – The Sharks dropped their second in a row in regulation on Friday in Anaheim, as the Ducks moved into first place in the suddenly tight Pacific. What were the three biggest takeaways from the game? Here we go…

1 – Getting down early…again

The Sharks were surely aware that a good start was key against the Ducks, who have given up the fewest third period goals in the NHL (15). It didn’t happen, and Anaheim seized a 2-0 lead 15 minutes into the game. It was similar to what happened against Ottawa on Wednesday, when the Senators scored two goals in the first eight minutes and went on to a 4-2 win.

The Sharks managed to fight back and tie it with a strong second period, but they may have used up their energy tanks by the time the third period started, and the Ducks took back the momentum – and the two points.

“I think anybody in this league, let alone Anaheim in their home barn, it’s tough to come back,” Dylan DeMelo said. “We did a good job fighting back. It was just unfortunate that they got that one there with about five minutes left.”

Headed into Saturday’s game with Carolina, the Sharks are 11-4-0 when scoring first, and 4-7-1 when allowing the first goal.

2 – Labanc creating offense

Rookie Kevin Labanc was all around the puck even before his goal made it 2-2 in the second period. With three goals, he now has more than Joe Thornton, Joonas Donskoi, Mikkel Boedker, Melker Karlsson and Chris Tierney, in about half the games.

Does Labanc feel he can help fill the offensive void with so many players failing to produce?

“Everybody here can score goals. It’s just a matter of opportunities and getting the right bounces,” Labanc said. 

“Some guys just don’t have the right bounces going their way. We’ve just got to stay positive. I’m doing everything that I can to do what’s right for the team and to win the game. Whether it be scoring goals, blocking shots, I’ve just got to do my job and play the right way.”

You have to think Labanc is on the cusp on staying with the Sharks for the season, and with so many players just not getting it done on the scoresheet, perhaps it’s time some of his former Barracuda teammates join him on the NHL roster.

3 – Snakebitten Pavelski

Once again, Joe Pavelski had some great chances that he couldn’t cash in on, just like against Ottawa. There’s certainly no reason to worry about Pavelski's play, but had he been able to finish his opportunities against the Senators and Ducks, the Sharks could have at least gotten a point in the standings in each.

“We had some good looks. Myself, I had a bunch. Have to start putting it in the net,” Pavelski said. 

“It’s frustrating when you know a goal could change the game like that and you’re missing some good opportunities. [Have to] keep working for the next chance.”