Sharks-Flames: What to watch for

Sharks-Flames: What to watch for
January 17, 2012, 9:19 pm
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PROGRAMMINGALERT: Tune into Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California at 7 p.m. and Sharks Postgame Live immediately after thegame.

SAN JOSE There are five games remaining for the Sharks before the NHL breaks for All-Star weekend, and ironically enough, all are against clubs north of the border. It begins tonight at home against the Calgary Flames.

Five games left, all against Canadian teams, which are fun to play against, especially for Canadian kids, Logan Couture said. Looking forward to playing these guys tonight, and hopefully we can get 10 points.

The two meetings with the Flames bookend the stretch before the break, as the Sharks visit the Saddledome on Jan. 24. Calgary is much better there (13-6-2) than it is on the road (8-14-3). The Flames bring a five-game road winless streak into tonight.

Furthermore, the Sharks are 7-1-1 in their last nine home games.

We try and make this building tough to play in, Couture said. Well try and start quick, and if we can get one early it will be good for us to get the crowd involved.

Its the first of four games total between the two teams. The Sharks won three of four last year.

Replacing Clowe: The Sharks will be without forward Ryane Clowe, who will miss the game with an injury related to him getting checked from behind into the boards against Minnesota on Jan. 10.

Curiously, Clowe played in the three games since that hit, but wont be in tonight. That means McLellan is without two of his top six forwards for the first time this season, as Marty Havlat recovers from a partially torn hamstring.

Jamie McGinn skated on the teams top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski at the morning skate, while the second line consisted of Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Benn Ferriero.

Well come up with some line combinations that will not be written in stone, Todd McLellan said. Well start from there, and see what the first five or 10 minutes gives us. Whoever is playing well is going to play.

Andrew Desjardins skated for the first time since getting hit in the head on Saturday, but is out indefinitely and listed as day-to-day.

Rebounding from Chicago: The Sharks four-game road trip ended with a whimper in Chicago on Sunday, and Todd McLellan admitted the 4-3 score made the game appear closer than it actually was.

It was the teams third game in four nights, and for most of it, Chicagos top line of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Viktor Stalberg skated circles around the Sharks in combining for five points and a whopping 17 shots.

What was the reason the Sharks were so flat? McLellan likened it to a chicken-or-the-egg scenario.

We were slow, and we werent very smart. I dont know which one triggered it, he said. Were we a little bit sloppy and slow and that made us not very wise with the puck, or were we not very wise with the puck and that made us slow and sloppy?

We can point to fatigue, but teams are playing a tremendous amount of games around the league so we cant use that as an excuse. We expect to see a fresh team tonight.

Niemi vs. Kiprusoff: Antti Niemi will get the start for the Sharks tonight, facing Miikka Kiprusoff.

Niemi has won six of seven career games against Calgary, with a 2.62 goals-against average and .890 save percentage. Surprisingly, though, that save percentage is the lowest of any team hes faced a minimum of five times.

Kiprusoff is 13-11-2 in 26 games against San Jose in his career, with a 2.94 goals-against average, .905 save percentage and two shutouts.

Odds and ends: The Sharks are 4-1-1 against Canadian teams this season. San Jose is 12-3-2 in its last 17 home games against the Flames. The Sharks lead the league in shots per game with 34.7, while the Flames have the fifth fewest (27.7) San Jose is second in the league in faceoff percentage (53.3) trailing only Boston, but has lost 61 of 109 draws in the last two games (44.0 percent). The Sharks are 18-1-3 when leading after two periods. San Jose is a league-best 25 in second periods this season, while Calgary is a league-worst -18.