Sharks-Capitals: What to watch for

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Sharks-Capitals: What to watch for

SAN JOSE Now that NHL realignment has been postponed for at least a year, there are no guarantees that Alex Ovechkin will make an appearance here at HP Pavilion in the 2012-13 season.

The superstar Capitals forward is here tonight, though, and will try to help his team win in San Jose for the first time since 1993. Washington brings a four-game overall winning streak into the game, and Ovechkin has led the way with 11 points in his last seven games (7g, 4a), including four consecutive two-point efforts.

They have a number of superstars and you cant zero in on any on individual, although, hes the kingpin there, Todd McLellan said of Ovechkin on Saturday morning. Hes the guy that pulls the trigger and makes things happen.

The Sharks will likely try and get Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic out against Ovechkins line, which includes Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer as much as possible.

Its fun. I enjoy playing against the top guys. Ive said that before, Boyle said. He sees good matchups every night, so its nothing new for him. Hes playing real well right now so hopefully well get the job done defensively.

Ovechkins take: While the Sharks were busy talking about how dangerous Ovechkin is on the ice, the man himself knows that the Capitals have 10 losses and one tie since their last win at HP Pavilion, and have lost 14 of 15 overall since the start of the 1999-2000 season.

Its always nice to have a winning streak and you always want to continue what youre doing. But, its a hard building for us to play in and win here, in I dont know how many years, Ovechkin said. We just have to not think about it and play a little better than we played a couple years ago.

In seven career games against the Sharks, Ovechkin has four goals and two assists.

What do the Caps need to do to beat the Sharks?

We dont play a lot against these guys so we just have to play our game and play most of the time in their zone and not ours, because they have pretty good skilled guys and use our mistakes to get chances," Ovechkin said.

Mitchells return: Sharks forward Torrey Mitchell appears set to return tonight after a one-game absence. Mitchell was healthy-scratched on Thursday night in the Sharks 2-1 win over Columbus.

At Saturdays morning skate, he was on the wing with Michal Handzus and Jamie McGinn. McLellan explained what went down with the 26-year-old forward.

I talked to Torrey, and he gave me all the answers that I needed. He explained to me what his strengths were as a player and what his assets were that he thought he needed to bring to the table on a nightly basis, said the coach. It was a pretty simple conversation; I didnt even need to say anything. You have to give him credit for very good self-evaluation. Sometimes players dont see it like that.

The Sharks fourth line will likely be Brad Winchester, Andrew Desjardins and Tommy Wingels, making Andrew Murray the odd man out.

Niemi vs. Vokoun: After watching from the bench for the first time in more than a month, Antti Niemi will return tonight to face the Capitals. Thomas Greiss got the start and the win against Columbus on Thursday, after Niemi had started the previous 13 games.

In three games against Washington, Niemi is a solid 2-0-1 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.

While those numbers sound pretty darn good, Washington expected starter Tomas Vokouns run against the Sharks is even more impressive. In his last 11 starts against San Jose, Vokoun is 10-0-1 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .932 save percentage and one shutout. His last regulation loss against the Sharks came on Dec. 23, 2003 when he was still with the Nashville Predators.

Odds and ends: Washington forward Nicklas Backstrom is out with an injury. After tonight, 17 of the Sharks next 23 games are on the road. The Capitals have a 14 goal differential in the third period. Washington has nine 4-on-4 goals, the most in the NHL. Capitals defenseman John Carlson leads NHL defensemen with 44 giveaways. Brent Burns is second with 43. ... San Jose visits Washington on Feb. 13.

Sharks' Hertl taking contact, getting closer to return

Sharks' Hertl taking contact, getting closer to return

SAN JOSE – Sharks center/forward Tomas Hertl has taken another step in his recovery from a right knee sprain and subsequent surgery.

The 23-year-old is now doing contract drills, and called himself “almost day-to-day now” on Saturday.

“Last two days I’m working on battles, and I feel pretty good,” Hertl said. “Everything is going right. Hopefully coming closer and closer to playing. … Just [need to be] more comfortable with battling, because skating and everything, I feel like 100 percent.”

Hertl didn’t completely shoot down a suggestion that he could play before the All-Star break, which begins on Friday, but indicated it’s more likely to be sometime after that. The Sharks resume their schedule on Jan. 31 against Chicago after next weekend’s breather.

“We want [to take] a little bit of time, more battles, a little bit more workouts,” Hertl said. “But, I think I’m pretty close. We’ll see how it goes the next couple days.”

The timeline has been fluid with Hertl, who was originally expected to miss “weeks” rather than months, general manager Doug Wilson said shortly after the injury on Nov. 17. On Jan. 5, a source with knowledge of Hertl’s status told CSN he was unlikely to play before mid-February, but it now appears he’ll be back sooner than that.

“Looks great,” coach Pete DeBoer said of Hertl. “I don't know if that's a testament to our group or his progress, but he looked fantastic out there. He's getting very close. We're starting to talk about him on a daily basis, which is a good sign."

Hertl suffered his knee injury during a game with St. Louis on Nov. 17 after what looked like a fairly innocent collision with the Blues’ Jori Lehtera, and underwent what Wilson termed a “minor procedure” on Nov. 22 designed to prevent further knee injuries from occurring. It was at least the third known procedure that Hertl has undergone on his right knee.

In 17 games, Hertl has nine points (4g, 5a).

NHL Gameday: Sharks host plummeting Avalanche, Nieto

NHL Gameday: Sharks host plummeting Avalanche, Nieto

Programming note – Sharks-Avalanche coverage starts today at 7:00 on CSN California with Sharks Pregame Live

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 28-16-2, 58 points, 2nd Pacific Division
Avalanche: 13-29-1, 27 points, 7th Central Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***Not only are the Avalanche buried in last place in the Central Division, but they are just 2-14-0 in their last 16 games, including losses in their last four. Colorado has not won a game in regulation since Dec. 11 in Toronto, getting just a pair of overtime wins since then.

The Sharks visit Pepsi Center on Monday for the second of a back-to-back. It should be four points in the bank, but, predictably that's not the approach they’re taking.

“You don’t look at where they’re at in the standings,” Logan Couture said. “They’ve got some very good players, some top end skill up front. So, we know it’s going to be a tough game. They can create a lot off the rush, those guys. It’s going to be a challenge.”

The Sharks have won three straight, and are 5-2-0 in their last seven.

Pete DeBoer said: “For me, this more of a mindset game. We've been playing some very solid hockey the last few games against some tough opponents, and we have to bring that mindset in here again tonight."

***In goal, Martin Jones will return after it was Aaron Dell in net for Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay.

The Sharks netminder has struggled after taking a game off, going 1-5-0 with a 2.85 goals-against average and .890 save percentage in six games. Last season, he was just 5-10-1 with a 2.54 GAA and .899 SP the game after not starting.

Colorado will go with Spencer Martin, who will be making his NHL debut. A third round pick in 2013, Martin is 15-9-2 with a 2.62 GAA and .915 SP in 27 games for San Antonio (AHL).

“Obviously, we don't want to make it easy on him,” DeBoer said. “We want to fire pucks and get traffic and get lots of action around the net, but we're not spending a whole lot of time on that.”

***The Sharks will ice their same lineup from Thursday, other than the goaltender change. Timo Meier remains out with an upper body injury.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Ryan Carpenter. The 26-year-old center opened the scoring in the Sharks’ win over Tampa Bay on Thursday, and is making his case to stay on roster at least while Tomas Hertl remains out. Carpenter, who has two goals, eight shots, and a plus-three rating in five games this season, will play in his third straight game tonight after getting recalled early in the week. 

Avalanche: Matt Nieto. After he was pushed out of the Sharks’ lineup, Matt Nieto was waived by San Jose and promptly claimed by Colorado on Jan. 5. Wearing his familiar uniform number 83, Nieto scored his first goal with the Avalanche on Tuesday against Chicago, and has two points and eight shots on goal in five games with his new team.

PROBABLE LINES

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

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones (starter)
Aaron Dell

Avalanche
Mikko Rantanen – Nathan Mackinnon – Rene Bourque
Gabriel Landeskog – Matt Duchene – Matt Nieto
Blake Comeau – Carl Soderberg – Jarome Iginla
Joe Colborne – John Mitchell – Mikhail Grigorekno

Fedor Tyutin – Tyson Barrie
Cody Goloubef – Nikita Zadorov
Francois Beauchemin – Eric Gelinas

Spencer Martin (starter)
Calvin Pickard

INJURIES

Sharks: Timo Meier (upper body), Micheal Haley (lower body), Dylan DeMelo (broken wrist) and Tomas Hertl (right knee sprain) are out.

Avalanche: Semyon Varlamov (groin) and Erik Johnson (broken fibula) are out.

QUOTEABLE

“It’s a bittersweet moment. Selfishly, you’re upset that you’re not going to be on the same team as him anymore and you’re not going to see him every day, but the other part of you is happy for him because he’s going to get an opportunity somewhere.”– Logan Couture, on Matt Nieto getting claimed by Avalanche earlier this month.