Sharks-Flames: What to watch for

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Sharks-Flames: What to watch for

CALGARY Its the last game before the NHL All-Star break, and the Sharks want to end the ceremonial first half of the season with a good taste in their mouths. Of course, so do 29 other NHL teams, including Calgary, which hosts San Jose on Tuesday night at the Saddledome.

The Sharks and Flames are going in opposite directions. San Jose has lost three straight, including four of five, while Calgary is 5-1-1 in its last seven.

San Joses lone win over that span came via shootout over the Flames at HP Pavilion on Jan. 17.

Burns out: The Sharks will be without Brent Burns after the defenseman suffered a right leg injury in Mondays 2-1 shootout loss to Edmonton. Burns and the team may have dodged a bullet, though, as head coach Todd McLellan told Calgary reporters this morning that the injury is not expected to sideline Burns long term.

Burns absence could mean Jim Vandermeers return to the lineup. McLellan hinted before the trip that Vandermeer, who hasnt played since Dec. 6 and was out with a left hand injury, could play in one of the teams games before the All-Star break.

Jason Demers returned to the lineup after a two-game absence in place of Justin Braun last night in Edmonton.

In the crease: Antti Niemi will presumably make his return to the net tonight after sitting out in favor of Thomas Greiss last night. Niemi has had off nights in his last two appearances, losing to Ottawa at home and in Vancouver on Saturday.

Facing Calgary could get him back on track. In eight career games against the Flames, Niemi is 7-1-0 with a 2.36 goals-against average and .902 save percentage.

For Calgary, Miikka Kiprusoff will get the start. In 27 career appearances against the Sharks, hes 13-11-3 with a 2.86 GAA and .907 save percentage.

Strong seconds: The second period has been San Joses best this season, while Calgary has struggled in the middle frame. The Sharks are a league best 21 in the second, while Calgary is -15, tied for 27th in the league.

The Flames are a 7 in the first compared with the Sharks -7 mark, and in the third, San Jose is a 5 while Calgary is a -5.

The Sharks 32 third period goals against are the third fewest in the NHL, behind only St. Louis (31) and Boston (also 31).

Odds and ends: The Sharks have not had a four-game winless streak this season. San Joses 23 shots by defensemen last night in Edmonton was a team record. Dan Boyle led the way with nine. This is the Sharks fifth straight game against a Canadian team. San Jose is 5-10-1 in its last 16 games in Calgary. The Sharks lead the league in shots per game with 34.7. San Jose is 4-4-4 in its last 12 road games. In their last seven games, the Flames have outscored the opposition 19-12. Calgary is 13-6-2 at home but 10-14-4 on the road.

Mailbag: Should Sharks trade a d-man for scoring help?

Mailbag: Should Sharks trade a d-man for scoring help?

Tuesday’s practice was canceled, as the Sharks boarded an afternoon charter flight to Los Angeles with the dads in tow for the annual fathers trip. That leaves us some extra time for a mailbag…

Why is no line set over halfway through the season? (Kevin Cocquyt @KevinCocquyt39)

The shuffling up of lines is one of those aspects of the game that I think gets overblown a bit. I can’t put a number on how many times Pete DeBoer has prefaced his reply to a question about the latest line changes with the phrase, “we’re not married to any lines…”

That said, I do think the preference would be to ice a more consistent top six at this point. The fact that they haven’t found a left wing to consistently skate on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski is concerning. On the second line, it remains to be seen if Kevin Labanc can stick with Logan Couture, or if he’ll start to fade a bit in his first NHL season. The other players that started the season on the second line, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker, have been moved all up and down the lineup all season long (more on that below).

Tomas Hertl’s absence has thrown a monkey wrench into all of this, of course. Assuming he gets back next month, there’s still plenty of time to get the lines sorted out for the playoff push. Regardless, though, they are almost always fluid, and keep in mind when DeBoer made a major change to his lines last playoff run – moving Patrick Marleau up to the second line and Chris Tierney to center the third line in the middle of the Nashville series – the Sharks finished off the Predators in the second round and went on to beat the Blues in the Western Conference Final.

So I guess my message here would be, don’t panic all that much at this point. It’s a long season.

Largest surprise and disappointment with the Sharks halfway through the season? There's a lot to pick from on both fronts. (Drew Cormier @DrewCormier)

I’ll give you one obvious and one maybe less obvious for both.

I’ll start with biggest surprise. It has to be Labanc. I know he tore up juniors last season, but this is still a kid who just turned 21 years old and wasn’t a high-round draft pick (sixth round, 2014). I knew the organization was high on him, and I even had him down as a dark horse player to make the team out of camp, but to come up so soon, and play regularly on a top scoring line and score seven goals – more than Donskoi, Boedker, Tierney, Joe Thornton and Joel Ward – is impressive, and, frankly, surprising.

One guy that’s gone under the radar a bit, though, is Brenden Dillon. The 26-year-old defenseman is simply faster and more mobile than he was last season, and he’s really made this defense corps one of the best in the NHL one-through-six. I know the numbers don’t show it, as Dillon has just four assists and a minus-five rating, but he’s a better player than he was last season.

As for disappointment, Boedker remains at the top of that list, even after his hat trick against the Oilers. He just doesn’t seem like the type of player that fits in with this forward group. At this point, I have to think there’s some buyer’s remorse there with Boedker owed $4 million a season through 2019-2020.

But another player that just hasn’t taken that next step so many thought he would is Donskoi. He was downright electrifying on some nights in the playoffs last season, and I thought this season we might see him get to 15-20 goals and 40-50 points. Instead, he’d be on pace for just 28 points in a full 82-game season. I thought he’d be better.

What do you think [Justin] Braun is worth? Can he be used as part of a deal for a top scoring forward? We need extra scoring. (Backhand Shelf @ChrisRivs)

I can understand the concern with the Sharks’ lack of scoring, and that many of their key forwards seem to be underperforming. Perhaps adding a little more scoring punch to their roster at the trade deadline is something that Doug Wilson will explore.

But, I don’t see any way this team will move one of its top four defensemen for a scoring forward. The strength and identity of this team this season has been its defensive structure and its ability to limit the opposition from getting shots and scoring chances in front of goalie Martin Jones. Moving Braun, or any of their other big minute defensemen, just wouldn’t make any sense.

I do, however, expect they’ll lose at least one of their current top six before next season, either through a trade or the expansion draft. That could very well be Braun, who might not get protected. In the meantime, though, they need him on the blue line.

Sharks recall three; Donskoi to IR

Sharks recall three; Donskoi to IR

The Sharks placed forward Joonas Donskoi on injured reserve Tuesday, and recalled a trio of players for their game against Los Angeles on Wednesday at Staples Center.

Donskoi has not played since Jan. 11 at Calgary, dealing with an upper body injury that is not believed to be serious. Although he’ll miss his third straight game on Wednesday, the 24-year-old could technically return for Thursday’s home game against the Lightning. In 41 games this season, Donskoi has six goals and 14 points.

Up front, forwards Ryan Carpenter and Barclay Goodrow were recalled, suggesting that someone from Monday’s 5-2 win over the Jets might not be able to play against the Kings. Logan Couture blocked a Toby Enstrom shot with about nine minutes to go in that game, and there was no immediate update on his status. The Sharks did not practice on Tuesday morning.

Carpenter has one goal in three games with the Sharks this season, coming on Nov. 30 in Los Angeles. He has 20 points (8g, 12a) in 29 AHL games this season. 

Goodrow has yet to make his Sharks season debut, but is first on the AHL Barracuda with 12 goals. He has 15 points (4g, 11a) in 74 career NHL games.

Tim Heed, also recalled, will likely serve as the seventh defenseman filling the void left by an injured Dylan DeMelo (broken wrist).