Sharks-Penguins: What to watch for

November 3, 2011, 7:42 pm
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SAN JOSE Its been a little while, but the Sharks will play in front of their home fans tonight for the first time in more than two weeks. Theyll be looking for their first win at HP Pavilion since the very first game of the season when they host the Sidney Crosby-less Pittsburgh Penguins.

Here are some notes and quotes to get you ready for the rare appearance from one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

Special teams: The Penguins own one of the more remarkable stats of the year so far. Through 13 games, the club is actually even on the penalty kill. They have allowed just three goals on 39 opponent power plays, but have scored three shorthanded goals, tying them for the league lead.

Furthermore, Pittsburgh is five for its last 18 chances on the power play over the last four games.

The Sharks, on the other hand, have struggled on the penalty kill. They sit at just 26th in the league at 73.7 percent, and have allowed at least one power play goal in their last four games.

Michal Handzus, brought on in the offseason to help shore up the PK, explained what the Sharks need to do better.

It wasnt very good the first 10 games, he said. We have to block more shots, have to pressure up the point when we can and if theres no chance to pressure, dont do it. Just play our system. I think we have a good system in place, we just have to execute and well be alright.

They have to be better: The biggest reason the Sharks were able to win five of six games on their recently completed road trip was the play of the first two lines. All six of the top forwards contributed on the scoresheet, and of the 20 goals scored, all but two came from that group.

Only Brent Burns overtime winner against the Islanders and Benn Ferreiros goal in Boston did not come from the top six.

Todd McLellan was blunt when asked about his third and fourth lines, offering up a laundry list of things they can improve upon.

Our third and fourth lines have to be better. I cant make it any clearer than that, said the coach. When I say that, I dont mean they have to score a bunch of goals. They have to create some momentum, they have to hold onto the puck in the offensive zone, draw penalties, they have to be heavy and hard to handle, have to be responsible defensively, they cant get involved in too many men on the ice penalties.

I can go on and on. They have to be better.
Boyle recovering, but changes on D? Dan Boyle battled through some flu-like symptoms for most of the road trip, even though it didnt cost him any games. The Sharks veteran defenseman didnt skate with the team yesterday, but is fine to go tonight.

Really slow recovery, and just a whole bunch of stuff going on. The main thing was it was just kind of sucking the energy out of me, said Boyle on Thursday morning. It started early in the road trip and just kind of got worse.

Boyle said that Saturdays game in Long Island was the worst, and although he wasnt completely recovered by Sunday in New York, still played more than 23 minutes.

While Boyle will be paired with regular partner Douglas Murray, there could be more changes in the Sharks third d-pairagain. Jason Demers was on the ice well after his teammates yesterday, and stayed on late again today, meaning he could be out of the lineup again. Demers was scratched for three of the six road games, although he has played in the last two.

Justin Braun and Jim Vandermeer were the first defensemen off the ice for the Sharks, although Colin White came off shortly after Vandermeer.

Better faceoffs: For a team like the Sharks, who rely so much on puck possession, winning faceoffs is a key element to their success. San Jose was strong at the start of the year, winning 57.7 percent through their first five games, but have lost the faceoff battle in four of the last five (44.3 percent over that span).

Its even worse on the power play, as they have won a staggeringly low 36.6 percent over the last five when on the man advantage.

Weve been one of the top teams in the last few years, so we want to get back up there, said Patrick Marleau. Thats our standard, to be in the top three. When you win faceoffs you control the game and control the pace of the game, and thats when were at our best.

Odds and ends: Penguins defenseman Kris Letang and center Jordan Staal will be game-time decisions. Antti Niemi will face Marc-Andre Fleury in net. Fleury is the NHLs winningest goaltender since Nov. 12, 2010, with 42. Niemi is second with 38. The Penguins and Sharks both had five-game winning streaks snapped in their previous games.