Sharks-Blues: What to watch for

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Sharks-Blues: What to watch for

Programming note: Blues-Sharks Game 3 coverage begins with Sharks Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. followed by Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda calling Sharks hockey at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California!
SAN JOSE The emotional and frustrating defeat in Game 2 aside, the Sharks have to be somewhat content they are tied with the Blues at a game apiece as their first round playoff series shifts to the Bay Area.

Sure, road teams are 11-8 in the Stanley Cup playoffs so far, but Sharks will take their chances playing in front of what should be a raucous crowd, eager to see its first playoff game of 2012 after the postseason was anything but a certainly in late March.

Its a great place to play. Its fun. Its playoff hockey, and its tough to beat at The Tank, Joe Pavelski said. Hopefully it brings a little speed to our team and we can play that faster game.

Does the home ice really make a difference when the puck is dropped? Pavelski believes it does.

Its definitely extra energy thats brought to you and your team, and were happy to be here right now, he said.

Said Patrick Marleau: It definitely gives you a lot of energy. Our fans are great, and its always so much louder here in the playoffs. Theyre going to be ready, and we have to be the same.

Emotions boiling over: There was a total of 132 penalty minutes doled out in San Joses 3-0 loss in St. Louis in Game 2 on Saturday. Emotions ran high thanks to several hits on both sides that several of the Blues and Sharks labeled as dirty.

The Sharks would like to keep that emotional level at a peak for Game 3, so long as it doesnt mean taking avoidable penalties.

You have to push to that line and find that line and not go over it, Pavelski said. You definitely want to be on the power play more than youre killing.

Ryane Clowe said: You cant go out there and take penalties or do something thats stupid. The ultimate goal is to win four games and win a series. You dont want to put yourself in a hole. Emotions are high and will be tonight, too. Thats just the way it goes.

Dan Boyle has seen it all when it comes to playoff hockey. According to the defenseman, the extracurricular activity diminishes as the games become more and more important.

But, not always.

At the start of playoffs everybody is so energized and I think as the series and stuff goes on, the physical play plays a role, he said. Things tend to taper off a little bit usually. That doesnt happen always, but both teams pride themselves on being physical. Theyre probably saying the same thing, but weve got to keep that going.

Top line scoreless: The Sharks top line of Joe Thornton, Pavelski and Marleau has yet to register a point in the series, primarily matched up against the David Backes-David Perron-T.J. Oshie trio of the Blues.

That didnt matter in Game 1, when St. Louis top line also didnt score and Andrew Desjardins goal in the third period forced overtime, where the Sharks won on Marty Havlats marker. In Game 2, Oshies slick set up of David Backes gave the Blues an important insurance goal, while the Sharks failed to get on the board.

McLellan wasnt giving any hints as to what matchup hell seek now that he gets the last change at home. But, he did talk about how important it will be to get his top guys on the scoresheet.

You can be OK with that when your third and fourth lines find ways to contribute, McLellan said, citing the goal from this fourth line in Game 1. If theyre not contributing offensively, somebody else has to find a way to get it done. Then, playing even isnt satisfactory.

Clowe seemed to suggest that line matchups are a little overrated.

Its not so much who youre playing against, its how you line up against them, and if youre ready to out-compete them, he said. Weve got to do a better job there.

Elliott in goal: The Blues will go with Brian Ellliott, who came in to relieve an injured Jaroslav Halak on Saturday, for Game 3. Elliott was the NHLs leader in goals-against average and save percentage during the regular season, and made 17 saves to preserve the 3-0 win on Saturday. Jake Allen will back him up.

The Sharks saw Elliott and Halak twice each in the regular season, going a combined 0-4. Not surprisingly, they didnt seem too concerned with who is manning the St. Louis crease.

I dont put too much stock in any goalie, really, Boyle said. Goalies are at this level for a reason. Theyre all very good. Its the same answer every time. Get more shots, traffic, rebounds. It doesnt matter.

Clowe would like to see the Sharks test Elliott early. When he entered in the second period of Game 2, San Jose went more than six minutes without a single shot on net.

I thought he came in last game and we gave him a chance to feel comfortable, and we didnt get much action on him early, he said. Tonight, we have to try to sustain pressure and get some second chances, more than anything.

Lineup changes? McLellan predictably wouldnt comment on any potential lineup changes for Game 3. Defenseman Colin White and forward Brad Winchester both came off of the ice earlier than usual, so theres a chance that either or both of them could see their first action of the series.

TJ Galiardi and Dominic Moore did not take part in San Joses optional morning skate on Monday.

The Blues will re-insert Chris Stewart, who was a scratch for Game 2, back into the lineup for Matt DAgostini based on line rushes on Monday morning.

Tommy Wingels saw a lot of the Blues bottom two lines in Games 1 and 2.

I think the players may have changed, but I dont think what they were trying to do changed at all, he said. As the third and fourth lines, your job is to get momentum and wear down the other team. They won the game last game, so it might have been more effective in that sense, but I think well try to play the same way regardless of who were matched up against.

Odds and ends: McLellan would like to see his club improve on faceoffs. The Sharks lost the battle in the circle in each of the first two games. The Blues are 2-for-9 on the power play in the series, while San Jose is 1-for-7. Havlat, Boyle and Clowe each have two points in the series, leading the Sharks. Patrik Berglund, Oshie and Andy McDonald lead the Blues with two points each.

Sharks get some down time with a break in schedule

Sharks get some down time with a break in schedule

SAN JOSE – A weekend with no games on the NHL calendar is rare enough. A weekend without any games or practices, though? That’s virtually unheard of in the middle of the season.

But with nothing until Wednesday's home game, and after a stretch of 10 games in 18 days, Sharks coach Pete DeBoer chose to give the players and staff a full Saturday and Sunday off. DeBoer and assistant coach Johan Hedberg were seen quickly scurrying from SAP Center a few short minutes after the game ended, while defenseman Brent Burns had his massive camouflage backpack stuffed to capacity while conducing his postgame media availability.

“It’s packed and ready to go,” Burns said, without going into any detail as to what exactly was in the bag.

DeBoer explained his rationale behind the respite on Friday morning.

“The way [the schedule] laid out after the month we’ve just had – the injuries, the stuff we’ve dealt with – it just made sense. We’ve got another push until the Christmas break after this with a tough schedule. 

“With our travel and the World Cup and everything, it didn’t make sense to come down here and skate when we had a chance to actually recharge mentally and physically.”

Although the team was aware of the break for some time, there’s no question that the Sharks have earned it. As they wake up on Saturday morning (presumably after sleeping in), they find themselves with a three-point cushion in the Pacific Division with a 15-9-1 mark. San Jose has won six of its last seven, including triumphs over perennial contender Chicago, chief rival Los Angeles, and the top team in the Eastern Conference, Montreal.

Their two longest road trips of the season are also already behind them, including a five-game trip in October and a six-gamer in November.

Joe Pavelski is pleased with what he’s seen so far, despite the challenging circumstances.

“Guys have handled it well,” said the captain. “There hasn’t been a whole lot of rest time, and we’ve found a few different ways to win, especially on nights that it hasn’t been easy. The biggest thing is guys have shown up and played hard. We’ve got a pretty good structure in here, guys are responsible, we’ve found a few goals, and [Martin Jones] gives us a chance every night.”

Joe Thornton said: “It’s been a lot of hockey. It will be nice to get a couple days after this to relax and recover a little bit.”

The schedule will ramp up again in short order. After three games in four nights next week, the Sharks will fly to Toronto and open up a four-games-in-six-days road trip with the Maple Leafs on Dec. 13.

* * *

The Sharks reassigned forwards Kevin Labanc and Ryan Carpenter to the AHL Barracuda on Saturday morning. Carpenter was a healthy scratch on Friday as Tommy Wingels got back in the lineup. 

It’s likely that the move was made at least partially because the Sharks are up against the salary cap, and that one or both players could return by the time they host the Senators on Wednesday.

Three takeaways: Sharks see similarities between Jones, Price

Three takeaways: Sharks see similarities between Jones, Price

SAN JOSE – The Sharks continued their hot streak with a 2-1 win over the Canadiens in a classic goaltender’s duel Friday night. The three takeaways from the game…

1 – Price, Jones similarities

Martin Jones was the standout star with his 31 saves, but the Sharks had to beat Carey Price on the other end to reward their own goalie. Price entered the night as the NHL leader in save percentage (.947), and third in goals-against average (1.68) and is probably on his way to another Vezina Trophy at the end of the season.

That the game came down to a battle in net was no surprise, as a prescient Pete DeBoer said Friday morning “we have to be prepared to win 2-1.”

There was talk after the game that there are some similarities between the Sharks emerging goaltender and the Canadiens superstar. 

“Actually, we spoke to [Sharks assistant/goaltending coach] Johan Hedberg about that, and he does see a lot of similarities between the two of them,” assistant coach Steve Spott said. “Their mannerisms in the net – they're both very, very calm. Both very quick. And both hockey clubs believe in their goaltenders. It was a great duo on that ice tonight. I think for any fan to see those two goaltenders was pretty special tonight."

Brent Burns, who won the World Cup with Price in September, said: “Very similar. … [Jones is] unflappable. They’re both big, very calm and great positioning. Very similar.”

2 – Strong start

The Sharks knew they were getting the weekend off from practice after the game, with no chance of any late changes as DeBoer and Hedberg were seen quickly departing for getaway flights after the final horn (that’s why Spott handled the postgame media duties). 

At this point in DeBoer’s second season, there seems to be a real trust factor between the coaching staff and the veteran team that no one will start their mini-break early. The Sharks were flying in the first period, jumping all over the Canadiens and seizing a 2-0 lead that Jones helped preserve over the final two frames.

Spott said: “It was good to come out like that and establish that momentum. We know how fast Montreal is and how deep they are up front, and obviously we know Carey Price. It was a good start. We were able to hold onto that."

“Whether you get the days off, you want to play hard,” Joe Pavelski said. “You want to come out [quickly], especially at home, at the starts.” 

3 – Escaping injury

Injuries are always a concern with so many games in so few days, and there were a few scary moments for San Jose.

The Sharks lost Kevin Labanc for a stretch in the first period after the rookie went hard into the boards on a hit by Alexei Emelin, but he came back in the second after he apparently went through some concussion tests.

Spott said: “He took a good hit. He came back. He went in and had to obviously do some [head injury] protocol.”

David Schlemko’s situation looked much worse, as the defenseman limped off of the ice and up the tunnel in the second period with what looked like a right leg or ankle problem. He returned midway through the third, though.

“It didn't look good when we saw it on video, but thankfully I think we dodged a bullet there,” Spott said.