Sharks-Flames: What to watch for

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Sharks-Flames: What to watch for

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.

Instant Replay: Sharks sweep back-to-back with win over Lightning

Instant Replay: Sharks sweep back-to-back with win over Lightning

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE – After missing his first game of the season, Logan Couture returned to the lineup to score the game-winning goal as the Sharks downed the Lightning at SAP Center, 2-1, on Thursday night.

Couture, who was too sick to play against the Kings on Wednesday, got his 15th of the season early in the third period to break a 1-1 tie. Linemate Kevin Labanc fished a puck out from along the end wall, while Couture got just enough of the puck to squeeze it through Andrei Vasilevskiy just 22 seconds into the final frame.

Backup goalie Aaron Dell made 24 saves, as the scuffling Lightning were held to two or fewer goals for the seventh time in their last eight games.

In the third period, Dell stopped Ondrej Palat with about 13 minutes left, getting his right pad on the Tampa Bay forward’s attempt from between the circles. He stretched to deny Valtteri Filppula’s wraparound try with less than seven minutes to go, preserving the Sharks’ slim lead.

The Sharks improved to 5-2-0 in their last seven games, and swept the two-game season series with the Lightning. San Jose is 16-6-0 overall against teams from the Eastern Conference.

After a dull first period, the pace picked up in the second as the teams traded scores.

Ryan Carpenter put San Jose ahead at 5:01, as his slap shot from the circle directed in off of Nikita Nesterov’s leg for his second career NHL score. The rookie was recalled on Tuesday after a brief stint with the Sharks in November, and was playing in just his fifth game this season.

Tampa Bay responded with a gorgeous power play score by Jonathan Drouin less than two minutes later. The 21-year-old took the puck from the neutral zone and charged ahead, going right around a flat-footed Marc-Edouard Vlasic and slipping it past Dell at 6:51.

Along with Couture’s return, Joonas Donskoi also played after missing the previous three games with an upper body injury.

The Sharks won the only other game between the two teams on Nov. 12 in Tampa Bay, 3-1.

San Jose improved to 5-3-0 in the second of back-to-backs.

Special teams

The Sharks had just one power play midway through the third period, and did not score.

The Lightning brought the NHL’s fourth-ranked power play into the game, although they hadn’t scored in their previous three games. They finished 1-for-3.

In goal

Dell was starting for the second time in nine days, the shortest length time off he’s had between games this season. He improved to 5-2-0 in his first NHL season, and has allowed two or fewer goals in five of his seven starts.

Vasilevskiy fell to 10-11-2 on the season, allowing two Sharks goals on 24 shots.

Lineup

Rookie Timo Meier was scratched for the first time since he was recalled in mid-December. Micheal Haley was surprisingly placed on injured reserve before the game with an upper body injury.

Tampa Bay remains without Steven Stamkos, who has been out since mid-November with a torn miniscus, while top defenseman Victor Hedman missed his third straight due to illness.

Up next

A pair of games against the putrid Avalanche, who are buried in last place in the Central Division and are the worst team in the NHL, is up next for San Jose. Saturday marks the SAP Center return of Matt Nieto, who was claimed off of waivers from the Sharks on Jan. 5.

The Sharks visit Pepsi Center on Monday for the second of the home-and-home, are in Winnipeg on Tuesday, and play their final game before the All-Star break at home next Thursday against Edmonton.

NHL Gameday: Sharks host Lightning in second of back-to-back

NHL Gameday: Sharks host Lightning in second of back-to-back

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

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 27-16-2, 56 points, 3rd Pacific Division
Lightning: 21-20-5, 47 points, 6th Atlantic Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***After missing Wednesday’s game in Los Angeles due to illness, Logan Couture could return against the Lightning. According to coach Pete DeBoer, Couture is feeling “good. Talked to him this morning at the rink. Went for a little skate. Looks good, but we won’t know until game time.”

Joonas Donskoi, who has missed the last three games with an upper body injury, will also be a game-time decision.

***Aaron Dell will make his second start in a little more than a week, getting back in shortly after a 3-2 loss in Calgary on Jan. 11. The game winner came from Dougie Hamilton from a sharp angle with 2:19 to go, on what was a stoppable shot.

“I think [Dell's] body of work has been real good. That could happen to anybody,” DeBoer said of the Hamilton goal. “I didn’t think he had a poor game that night. It’s going to happen. This isn’t like you need to see a bounce back effort, or anything like that. We’re comfortable with what he brings. I know he’s excited to play, and he’s played well for us.”

***The Lightning are just 2-5-1 in their last eight games, and are in the midst of a six-game road swing. It started with a win over the Kings on Monday, 2-1, and was followed by a 2-1 overtime loss in Anaheim on Tuesday. Tampa Bay has scored two or fewer goals in six of its last seven, but also brings the NHL’s fourth-ranked power play (22.9 percent) into tonight’s contest.

Top defenseman Victor Hedman reportedly remains out tonight with an illness. It will be his third straight game out of the lineup. He leads the league among blueliners with 31 assists, and his 38 points trails only Brent Burns (46).

***San Jose beat the Lightning in the only other game of the season series on Nov. 12 in Tampa Bay, 3-1. The Sharks are 4-3-0 this season in the second of back-to-back games, and 15-6-0 against the Eastern Conference.

Tampa Bay is just 3-8-2 against the Western Conference.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Tommy Wingels. Although he’s found it difficult to stay in the lineup on a nightly basis this season, Wingels has managed to contribute recently, including a goal against the Kings on Wednesday. The 28-year-old fourth liner has one point in three of his last six games, despite being scratched for seven of the last 12 overall. He’s had success against the Lightning, too, with four goals and seven points in eight career games.

Lightning: Jonathan Drouin. The forward saw a five-game point streak come to an end on Jan. 17, but has at least one point in eight of his last 10 games overall. After a misguided decision last season in which he demanded a trade that never happened, Drouin, 21, is third on the Lightning in scoring with 29 points (13g, 16a).

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Melker Karlsson – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Kevin Labanc – Patrick Marleau – Mikkel Boedker
Timo Meier – Chris Tierney – Joel Ward
Micheal Haley – Ryan Carpenter – Tommy Wingels

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

Aaron Dell (starter)
Martin Jones

Lightning
Ondrej Palat – Vlad Namestnikov – Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn – Tyler Johnson – Joel Vermin
Brian Boyle – Valtteri Filppula – Jonathan Drouin
Michael Bournival – Cedric Paquette – Gabriel Dumont

Nikita Nesterov – Anton Stralman
Jason Garrison – Andrej Sustr
Braydon Coburn – Luke Witkowski

Andrei Vasilevskiy (starter)
Ben Bishop

INJURIES

Sharks: Logan Couture (illness) and Joonas Donskoi (upper body) are questionable. Dylan DeMelo (broken wrist) and Tomas Hertl (right knee sprain) are on injured reserve.

Lightning: Steven Stamkos (torn meniscus), Brayden Point (upper body), J.T. Brown (upper body), Ryan Callahan (lower body) and Victor Hedman (illness) are out.

QUOTEABLE

“I think we’ve been saying all year our job is to try and be in their end and get a good forecheck. Luckily of late we’ve been getting some points, so that’s good.” – Micheal Haley, on the recent play of the Sharks’ fourth line.