Sharks-Coyotes: What to watch for

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Sharks-Coyotes: What to watch for

SAN JOSE Thomas Greiss already has one win in the books this season against Phoenix. Hell try for his second tonight, when he returns to the net for the Sharks against the Coyotes at HP Pavilion.

Greiss, who sports an impressive 1.99 goals-against average and .928 save percentage, is making his first start since backstopping a 3-1 win against the Islanders on Oct. 29.

Hes earned the opportunity, and with the long break coming up between now and the Detroit game (on Thursday), and him not having started since our game on the Island, its important to get him back in, said Todd McLellan on Saturday morning.

Although its his first start of the month of November, Greiss came on in relief of Antti Niemi on Nov. 3 against Pittsburgh, helping the Sharks come from behind to defeat the high-powered Penguins. Hes seized his opportunity this season with Antero Niittymaki on the shelf until December at the earliest.

Hes one of just eight goalies in the NHL with a GAA under two.

I feel comfortable calling his number whenever, said McLellan, who mentioned that Griess has improved his game around the net.

Power play rolling at home: Patrick Marleau scored two power play goals against the Wild in the Sharks last home game, and the team now owns the best power play percentage in its own building at 30-percent.

Overall, the Sharks are sixth in the league (23.1 percent).

McLellan was asked on Saturday what has made his club so successful when it has a man advantage.

Were unpredictable, is probably the best way of putting it, he said. Right from entering the zone, we have different breakouts for different lines, and different sets. Were interchangeable parts, and that comes with experience.

One of the biggest qualities of the power play is puck retrieval; the ability to stay in and tire a team out. When were going well, we do that.

The Sharks may not have too many chances to improve those numbers tonight, though. The Coyotes enter the game with the fewest penalty minutes-per-game in the league with 8.5.

Coyotes still howling: After watching the shellacking the Sharks gave them on opening night, combined with the loss of star goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov in the offseason, it would have been easy to assume that the Coyotes would have a firm hold on last place in the Pacific Division by now.

As usual, though, the Coyotes are finding ways to hang around. Since that loss on Oct. 8, Phoenix has dropped just three games in regulation (7-4-3).

They dont have too many marquee players, so to speak, but they find ways to win, said Dan Boyle. The first game of the year was probably one of, if not our best game all year. I expect them to be much better than they were the first time around.

They had an awful opening night, and a good coaching staff, good team and good leadership, they know that, said McLellan. Theyve moved on and played well ever since.

One reason for that is goaltender Mike Smith. Smith got the call in that first game against the Sharks and surrendered six goals in just two periods to take the loss. In his 10 starts since, Smith is 6-1-3 and has allowed two goals or less in seven of them.

First things first: The Sharks have scored the first goal of the game just five times this season, and are a perfect 5-0 when doing so. That includes Thursday night against Minnesota.

The Coyotes have done it nine times, and have yet to lose a regulation game when jumping out to a 1-0 lead (6-0-3).

You dont usually score six goals against Phoenix, they are usually one-goal games, said Ryane Clowe. A lot of times its the first to three goals against Phoenix. Theyre coming in after losing a bad one, so theyre going to be ready to go.
Odds and ends: The Sharks have won six straight home games against the Coyotes. The Sharks are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, the best mark in the NHL. This is the first game of a season long five-game road trip for the Coyotes. Phoenix is 7-0-0 when leading after two periods, and 0-4-1 when trailing after two. Coyotes defenseman Michal Roszival has not played since getting struck by a puck in the first game of the season against the Sharks.

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.