Sharks-Predators: What to watch for

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Sharks-Predators: What to watch for

NASHVILLE As poorly as the Sharks road trip started, the club still has a chance to finish with a .500 record with back-to-back games in Nashville and Minnesota this weekend, beginning tonight at Bridgestone Arena.

It wont be easy. The Predators are among the top teams in the Western Conference, and have not lost in regulation at home since Jan. 5, going 8-0-2 over that span. Their recipe for success remains the same a strong blue line corps, speed up front, and a world-class goaltender in Pekka Rinne.

San Jose, 2-4-1 on its nine-game trek, will try to build off of a 2-1 win in Toronto on Thursday night, ending a season-long four-game losing streak.

We need to start putting together good games back-to-back, Logan Couture said. Were getting down to 23 games left in the year, so were pushing for a playoff spot and we need to be playing our best to make the playoffs.

Joe Thornton said: There are still four points out there to be had, so weve still got to focus in on winning some games. Its been a tough trip, but it can be an average trip if we win these two games.

RELATED: Trotz says Sharks, Preds match up well

Positives from Toronto: The improvements from the Sharks win in Toronto, compared with the 6-3 loss in Columbus the previous game, were numerous. First and foremost, the team was a great deal better in its own zone and got a much-needed strong performance from goaltender Antti Niemi.

McLellan rattled off a few more.

The power play got us a goal. We came out on the winning side of a one-goal game instead of the losing side. Kept a team to under three, which is important to our team, said the coach, before mentioning he got solid play from all four of his lines.

The Sharks were not shorthanded even once against the Maple Leafs, after the coach stressed disciplined play following the Columbus game in which the team committed numerous avoidable infractions resulting in Blue Jackets power play goals.

When were playing well, were disciplined and we dont take many penalties, McLellan said. I look at the team were playing tonight, theyre a very low-penalized team. They do a lot of work with their legs, and with their positioning, and we have to be that type of team tonight.

The Predators and Sharks are among the top power play units in the league. Nashville is second in the NHL with a 21.6 percent rate, while San Jose is just behind in third at 21.5 percent. The Sharks are 14-for-46 on the power play in their last 15 games (37.0 percent), but the Predators have not allowed a power play goal in their last five games.

Secondary scoring needed: The Sharks top scorers have been outstanding lately in terms of putting points on the board. In the last six games, Couture has eight points (4g, 4a), while Thornton (1g, 5a), Joe Pavelski (2g, 4a) and Patrick Marleau (5g, 1a) have six apiece.

Playing at home, the Predators will try and get Shea Weber and Ryan Suter out against the Sharks top line of Thornton-Marleau-Pavelski as much as possible, so a goal or two from the bottom two lines would be huge for San Jose.

Those two are tough to score on, and are big plus players for them, Couture said. For our team to be successful, you need some secondary scoring. Weve had that for the majority for the year, we just need to continue it tonight.

Weve got Pav and Patty and Coutch that are doing a lot of scoring for our team, and after that we need some of the grinders to step up, McLellan said. We need them to play solid defensively, but every now and then we need them to chip in. Its no secret when you go back and look at most of our wins, theyve found a way to contribute at some point.

Among the Sharks that havent lit the lamp lately are Torrey Mitchell (15 games), Ryane Clowe (nine games) and Jamie McGinn (seven games).

Niemi vs. Rinne: Antti Niemi will try and win back-to-back starts for the first time since Jan. 24 and 31 (the games immediately preceding and following the All-Star break), when he mans the crease for the Sharks tonight.

In seven career games against Nashville, Niemi is 4-2-1 with a 2.39 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.

Nashville will go with Pekka Rinne, who will start for the 15th time in the last 16 games. Rinne has allowed two goals of fewer in five straight games, and is 4-2-3 with a 2.47 GAA and .931 SP against the Sharks in 10 career games.

Odds and ends: Predators forward Patric Hornqvist will return tonight after a five-game absence due to an upper body injury. ... The Sharks and Predators split two early season meetings this season, with each team winning on the others home ice. In the last 16 games between these teams, 13 have been decided by one goal. Nashville is playing its third game of a five-game homestand, and is 1-0-1 so far. Dominic Moore (lower body) and Douglas Murray (fractured Adams apple) remain out for the Sharks, and wont play tomorrow in Minnesota, either. Todd McLellan expects Moore to play probably over the next week. Nashville is 15-2-2 in its last 19 home games. McLellan on the Sharks nearing the end of their road trip: Youre always concerned as a road trip winds down that guys are looking forward to getting home, but we havent banked enough points at all on this trip to do that.

Sharks' Donskoi 'not getting frustrated' during scoring drought

Sharks' Donskoi 'not getting frustrated' during scoring drought

SAN JOSE – Throughout the Sharks’ two-month playoff run, as the team attracted a grander media horde with every round, Joonas Donskoi became more and more popular.

Who was this 24-year-old former fourth round pick of the Florida Panthers, who was such a key contributor to the Sharks’ success? Inquiring minds wanted to know.

The Finland native scored some of the Sharks’ biggest goals during that longest postseason in franchise history. In Game 5 against the Kings in the first round, Donskoi scored a third period goal that put San Jose back up to stay, after Los Angeles had stormed back from a 3-0 hole.

In the Stanley Cup Final, his overtime marker on a turnaround wrist shot in Game 3 kept the Sharks alive, and elicited perhaps the loudest cheer ever heard at SAP Center.

In total, Donskoi contributed 12 points (6g, 6a) in 24 games skating on the second line.

“It was a great run in the playoffs, a lot of great experiences,” Donskoi said.

The expectations for Donskoi were naturally raised headed into this season. Twenty goals and 50 points didn’t seem out of reach for him after the strides he took in his rookie campaign.

So far, though, those goals and points aren’t quite there. Donskoi has just two goals and six assists for eight points in 25 games, while averaging nearly 15 minutes a night. He’s also a mainstay on the second power play unit.

Sharks coach Pete DeBoer agreed with the theory that Donskoi’s profile has risen, and opponents are probably more aware of when he’s on the ice. But it’s those expectations to build on last season that may be weighing a bit on the player.

“A different type of pressure,” DeBoer called it. “When you’re a young guy coming in and no one knows you, you’re just playing and you’re not thinking about things. He knows he can be successful in this league, and there’s a different pressure with now expecting to score and put up numbers.”

Despite Donskoi’s one solitary assist in his last eight games, DeBoer has no issues with the way he is working on a nightly basis. It’s not at all comparable to the situation that arose a week and a half ago with Mikkel Boedker, who was benched for a period and then criticized by the coach for not competing hard enough.

“I know [Donskoi’s] numbers and his scoring aren’t where [he wants], but I think consistently he brings the same effort, same game, same reliability every night,” DeBoer said. “The nice thing is even when he’s not scoring, you still can count on those things. Eventually, it’s going to come.”

Donskoi has no illusions that his numbers are down and he has “a lot to improve.” At the same time, he’s not frustrated, and indicated that his production will pick up if he keeps doing what he’s been doing.

“I’m pretty happy the way I’m playing two ways. I think I’m responsible defensively and creating scoring chances, but just kind of not being able to get on the scoreboard enough. … I feel confident the way I’m still playing. I’m not getting frustrated, or anything.”

After playing exactly 100 games last season between the regular season and playoffs – he hadn’t played more than 71 games in a season in Finland before that – there’s reason to believe that the short summer and World Cup affected him, too. 

“I think the biggest thing for me [is] playing at a high level every night. I’m not there yet,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys in this locker room [that] play at a really high level every night. Those are the guys I’m trying to watch and learn [from].”

Labanc returns to Sharks after successful weekend in AHL

Labanc returns to Sharks after successful weekend in AHL

SAN JOSE – Kevin Labanc had no idea he’d get back to the show so quickly after the Sharks reassigned him to the Barracuda on Saturday.

The 20-year-old made the most of his time in the AHL, though, posting three assists in two games in San Antonio, TX in a pair of wins for the Sharks’ primary minor league affiliate. He was recalled on Tuesday morning.

“It was fun to be with the guys, work hard, get a couple points out of those two games and help the team in the standings,” Labanc said.

Labanc said he was dealing with a painful left knee that was “killing me” following a cross-check in the Sharks’ win over Montreal on Friday - an injury that forced him to the locker room for a brief stretch - and arrived at the arena in San Antonio on Saturday just a half hour before the team meeting.

“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, whether it be going on a plane right after a game,” he said. “Just got to do it, don’t ask questions, and just work hard.”

Sharks coach Pete DeBoer decided that a weekend off, which the rest of the team enjoyed without a game for four days, wasn’t ideal for Labanc, who has four points (2g, 2a) in 12 games while averaging nearly 12 minutes of ice time. The result was three games in three days for the Brooklyn native.

“I don’t think any of these young guys have arrived yet where they’re ready for weekends off,” DeBoer said. “If they can play hockey, they’re going to play hockey.”

“I think we’ve gotten great contributions from our American League call-ups. Whether that turns into full time jobs, that’s yet to be seen, but we just go day-by-day here.”

For Tuesday’s practice, Labanc was on a line with Chris Tierney and Joel Ward. Tommy Wingels was with Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker, while the fourth line was comprised of Melker Karlsson, Micheal Haley and Matt Nieto.

Logan Couture (surgical procedure) and David Schlemko (lower body) missed practice, but both could play on Wednesday against the Senators.