Sharks-Panthers: What to watch for

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Sharks-Panthers: What to watch for

SAN JOSE The Florida Panthers visit HP Pavilion tonight to face the Sharks as one of the more pleasant surprises in the NHL. They lead the Southeast Division with 30 points (13-8-4), as rivals like Washington and Tampa Bay have struggled to find consistency.

A new coach Kevin Dineen as well as key offseason additions like Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell, Tomas Fleischmann and Jose Theodore have rejuvenated a franchise that has been at or near the bottom of the standings in recent years.

Now that the NHL season has passed the quarter point, though, the rebuilt Panthers are sneaking up on teams no longer.

The team was torn down somewhat, and rebuilt with a number of new bodies. Its a clean slate, and everybody had a chance to prove themselves to a new coach or manager in the organization, said Todd McLellan. Theyve done a very good job, and theyre a hell of a hockey team.

The Panthers are the second straight club to visit HP Pavilion that the Sharks rarely see, after San Jose managed to defeat the Montreal Canadiens in a shootout on Thursday, 4-3. The teams met just once last season, a 3-2 win for the Panthers in South Florida.

The Panthers are concluding a four-game road trip, looking to fly home with a 2-2 mark. Theyve scored just eight goals in their last five games, but are getting leading scorer Kris Versteeg back after he missed the 2-1 loss in Los Angeles on Thursday with a broken nose, courtesy of former Shark Derek Joslin.

Hes a game breaker, he adds a lot to our lineup, and it will be good to get him back in there, said Dineen of Versteeg.

Rebound effort for top line: As good as the Sharks second line of Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture and Marty Havlat was in Thursdays win, the top line of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski struggled. Those three were scoreless and a combined -8 after being reunited at the start of a game for the first time in more than three weeks.

Marleau, who was the Sharks most consistent scorer with 11 points in nine games while centering the second line, said there was an adjustment period for him in moving back to the wing.

There was a little bit in the first. Sometimes as a winger you get stuck on the boards a little bit and have to remind yourself to get skating and push the pace a little bit and try to create things that way, he said. As a center youre always in and around the play, but as a winger you have to make sure that you go to it.

The second lines combined five points masked the poor performance of the top line, but McLellan points out that the opposite has been true on plenty of other nights.

The top lines teammates bailed them out, much like theyve done for them in the past, said the coach. I have no problem putting them back on the ice tonight, and I expect much better from them.
Battle of the backups: Thomas Greiss is the confirmed starter for San Jose, while all signs point to the Panthers inserting Scott Clemmensen in the net in favor of regular starter Jose Theodore.

Greiss last appearance was Nov. 20 at Colorado, when he made 36 saves in a 4-1 Sharks win over the Avalanche.

Hes played well for us, and I say the same thing every time he goes in, said McLellan. We trust him and we think hell give us a good night.

Griess is 4-3 with a 1.99 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.

Clemmensen, on the other hand, has played in just a single game while Theodore has impressed in getting the bulk of the work. His one was an excellent one, though, as he recorded a shutout by making 25 saves in Dallas on Nov. 15.
Pressure the D: The Panthers generate much of their offense from the blue line, led by former Shark Brian Campbells 20 points (tied for second in the NHL in points among defensemen). Jason Garrisons eight goals are tops among NHL defenders, while Dmitry Kulikov has 14 assists.

Pressuring the defensemen on the points and getting in hard on the forecheck are the keys to countering Floridas impressive blue line corps.

Campbell is the passer and Garrison is the shooter, and hes got eight goals already. Five-on-five, the penalty kill, it will be very important to get in the lane on him, and Campbell too, who can skate it and pass it, said Marc-Edouard Vlasic. It will be a big challenge for our forwards and our d-men.

Were going to have to be aware of where their d-men are. It starts in the offensive zone, said McLellan. If you get lazy on the forecheck or get caught on the boards, theyll beat you up ice.

Getting in shooting lanes is always important on the penalty kill, and will be even more so tonight for San Jose due to the Panthers defense. The Sharks penalty kill enters the game last in the league at home (73.0 percent), although San Jose has been shorthanded just 68 times fewest in the NHL. The Panthers have the second fewest with 71.

Thats a good sign, but at the same time if we only have one or two we have to make sure we kill them off, said Vlasic.
Odds and ends: Colin White will likely replace Jim Vandermeer on the teams third defense pair, along with Jason Demers. Floridas roster features several former Sharks, including Marco Sturm, who was acquired from Vancouver on Oct. 23. He and Brian Campbell are the only ones expected in the lineup tonight, though, as Marcel Goc, Mikael Samuelsson and Matt Bradley are all hurt. Florida is still without winger Scottie Upshall (upper body). San Jose has won its last four home games against Florida, outscoring them 18-3 in the process.

Notes: Sharks resume practice after rare weekend off

Notes: Sharks resume practice after rare weekend off

SAN JOSE – It was a spirited, if fairly unstructured practice for the Sharks on Monday as they got back to work following a full weekend off.

Assistant coaches Steve Spott and Johan Hedberg appeared to keep the mood light, as head coach Pete DeBoer was not yet back in the area. The Sharks took Saturday and Sunday off after Friday’s win over Montreal, and host the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday.

“The pace was high, guys were excited to be back on the ice, and we’ll have a more structured practice tomorrow – some system play, and we’ll get ready for Ottawa,” Spott said.

The Sharks coaching staff opted for a two-day break from the rink after San Jose completed a stretch of 10 games in 18 days. The busy schedule resumes with three games in four days starting with Ottawa, and a four-game road trip follows next week, beginning in Toronto on Dec. 13.

The players took advantage of the down time, with several of them catching the Raiders-Bills game in Oakland on Sunday. More importantly, though, they presumably refilled their energy tanks after playing so much hockey and taking so many flights through the first seven-and-a-half weeks of the season.

Spott said: “We thought about a few different scenarios, but we thought having them shut down for two full days and then coming in to have two days of practice would be best for us. I think the players appreciated that.

"One thing we’ve all learned here as a staff, being relatively new to the Western Conference, is the importance of rest and player maintenance. We can’t underestimate how important that is for our hockey club, to make sure they get the maintenance and the rest that they need.”

Sharks forward Logan Couture and defenseman David Schlemko took maintenance days. Schlemko missed a portion of Friday’s game with what looked to be a leg or ankle injury, but he returned in the third period.

* * *

The Sharks reassigned forwards Kevin Labanc and Ryan Carpenter to the Barracuda over the weekend.

Sending Labanc down was a bit of a surprise in that the 20-year-old has averaged 11:58 of ice time in 12 games, with two goals and two assists. In two games with the Barracuda over the weekend in San Antonio, he posted three assists.

Spott was asked what the message was to the Staten Island, NY native.

“Do the same things there that you’ve done here, and that’s compete at both ends of the rink,” Spott said. 

“He’s going to get more offensive opportunities, being on the power play with the Barracuda, but [he has to not lose sight] of how good he has to be defensively, as well. That was our message.”

* * *

Sharks goalie Martin Jones was named as the NHL’s Third Star of the Week, going 3-0 with a 1.01 goals-against average and .962 save percentage.

It’s the second time in two weeks that the Sharks have had a player earn third star, as Brent Burns was honored last week.

Mailbag: Is it time for Sharks to call up Meier?

Mailbag: Is it time for Sharks to call up Meier?

A few questions about a certain former first round pick in today’s mailbag…

It seems like Timo [Meier] is starting to get up to speed in the AHL. When do you think we see him make his debut with the #SJSharks? (Mike Vetrone @washyourrhands)

Is it Timo's Time'o? (Bill Frederick)

Timo Meier has been heating up. In the most recent Barracuda game in San Antonio on Sunday, Meier had a pair of goals and a game-high seven shots. That extended his point streak to four games, with five goals, three assists and 19 shots over that span. He leads the team with eight goals and is tied for second with 14 points.

Meier needed to work on his north-south game when he first got to the AHL, but those numbers certainly indicate he’s figuring it out. I’d be surprised if the Sharks aren’t thinking about bringing him up, and soon.

On a related note, I was a bit startled that Kevin Labanc was reassigned over the weekend. I thought he had done enough lately to remain, especially when you consider that the team is winning games, and coaches don’t like to mess with a winning lineup (although the move does save the club some salary cap money). 

Perhaps it’s a sign, though, that they’re going to recall Meier shortly. The Sharks will need at least one more forward for their upcoming four-game road trip that begins next week in Toronto, and it could be time to give Meier a shot. At this point, and with the way Pete DeBoer seems to be constantly shuffling his lines, it may make sense to try him as the second line right wing with Logan Couture and Joonas Donskoi on the left, while bumping Joel Ward down to the third line with Chris Tierney and either Mikkel Boedker or Melker Karlsson.

Any chance [Mikkel] Boedker sits out any games to try and get his game going? Playing every game does not seem to do it. (Jim Kelley)

Boedker has responded a bit in his last few games since getting benched late against the Ducks on Nov. 26. He got his first two assists in wins over the Coyotes and Kings, and showed his speed on one rush against Montreal on Saturday, wheeling around the net and firing a wrist shot that Carey Price snagged in the second period.

The next few weeks are going to be important for the 26-year-old. This is obviously a deeper team than the Sharks have had in some time, with guys like Meier and Labanc on their way, Boedker could get pushed out of the lineup if he doesn’t bring it every night.

Will we see [Aaron] Dell more? (nowangel @Sharks_Division)

Looking at the week ahead, I would imagine he gets the Hurricanes on Saturday at home when you consider his strong game in Carolina on Nov. 15. That will be the second of a back-to-back for the Sharks, and it allows Martin Jones to rest before the upcoming (and difficult) four-game trip to Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Chicago. I could see Jones starting all of those, including the back-to-back against Toronto next Tuesday and Ottawa on Wednesday.

After that, perhaps the game against the Flyers on Dec. 30 – before a New Year’s Eve meeting with the Kings at Staples Center – is another good time to get Dell in there.

Do you think [Dylan] DeMelo will get into the rotation more to give some guys rest? (Jack Merridew @Maroon_1001)

DeMelo has played well in his two appearances, considering the circumstances, but I don’t really see a situation where they would play him unless someone else is hurt. Keep in mind, the Sharks are leading the NHL in goals-against per game (2.04) and give up the second-fewest shots per game (26.2). There’s just no reason to mess with the blue line if you don’t have to.