Sharks-Ducks: What to watch for

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Sharks-Ducks: What to watch for

Sharks (20-11-4) vs. Anaheim (10-21-6) at 6:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California.

ANAHEIM The Sharks are feeling confident after a 3-2 shootout win over Vancouver on Monday. Theyll try to keep building upon that tonight against another team they've struggled with recently.

Anaheim, in 29th place overall in the NHL standings, has beaten San Jose all three times this season. That includes a 3-2 win less than two weeks ago at HP Pavilion.

Anaheim has basically owned us all year, Jamie McGinn said after Wednesdays morning skate at Honda Center. "Also, I think theres a lot of pride on the line. You dont want to lose every single game against a division rival.

RELATED: Sharks dominate lesser teams -- except Ducks

"With such a big rivalry at Anaheim, we know were going to have Sharks fans here tonight, and we need to get a win.

Get the first goal: The Ducks have scored first in each of the three games vs. the Sharks, which for them, is huge. Anaheim is 1-16-2 when giving up the first goal but a respectable 9-5-4 when taking a 1-0 lead.

Confidence is a huge thing in any sport or life. When you feel good about yourselves individually and collectively, things tend to go better, Todd McLellan said. When you earn that opportunity or that right to feel good as the game goes on, the likelihood of success goes way up. Playing with the lead is something we all want to do in the league.

Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau liked what he saw from his club the day after Christmas at HP Pavilion. That was Anaheims only win in its last seven games (1-5-1).

The Ducks were able to maintain a slim lead, after Andrew Cogliano's goal midway through the second period held up as the game-winner.

Our work ethic against them was great. We worked hard for 60 minutes and we had a solid goaltending game, Boudreau said. You add that with the fact that we got the lead, and we never relinquished the lead. When you dont relinquish the lead when youre mentally fragile, thats a real big thing.
Limit the mistakes: The Sharks havent necessarily played terribly in their three one-goal losses to Anaheim, but key errors at inopportune times have cost them. That includes Joe Thorntons turnover that led to a Bobby Ryan breakaway goal early in the second period on Dec. 26.

We havent played poorly, we just havent been on top of those one-goal games, Thornton said.

The last time San Jose was in this building, a missed assignment by Andrew Desjardins led to a goal by the Ducks fourth line in the only marker of the game.

When you look at the opportunities that weve given them, there havent been many. When were erred, weve erred ugly, McLellan said.
Tracking Teemu: Boudreau had nothing bad to say about the Ducks leading scorer, Teemu Selanne, on Wednesday morning.

And why should he? The 41-year-old Selanne leads Anaheim with 36 points (11g, 25a) and has done nothing but impress his new head coach since Boudreau took over in late November.

When you call it a freak of nature at 41 when hes doing what hes doing, it is, Boudreau said. He still skates as well as anybody, doesnt want to miss any optional skates, doesnt take time off. Hes definitely one of a kind.

Selanne has 13 points in the 15 games Boudreau has been behind the bench.
Niemi vs. Hiller: Sharks goalie Antti Niemi will make his 13th straight start in net, opposing Anaheims Jonas Hiller.

Hiller, who has lost five of his last six decisions, has two wins against the Sharks this season with a 1.00 goals-against average and .971 save percentage. Hes 5-0-0 with a 1.71 goals-against average with two shutouts in his last six appearances against San Jose.

Niemi is 5-1-1 in his last seven starts, but 3-4 career against Anaheim.

Thomas Greiss will backup Niemi.

Odds and ends: Jason Blake is returning for Anaheim. Blake hasnt played since he was accidentally stepped on the arm by Brent Burns on Oct. 14. Colin White remains out for the Sharks with a lower body injury, and is not on the trip. The Sharks have points in eight of their last nine games (5-2-3).

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.