PROGRAMMING NOTE: Coverage of the Predators vs. Sharks begins with Sharks Pregame Live at 7 p.m. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m., and the game is immediately followed by Sharks Postgame Live. Watch it all on Comcast SportsNet California.
SAN JOSE If the Sharks deserve a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, well, now is the time to prove it.
The team is as healthy as its been all season, as its getting Marty Havlat back tonight after a three-month absence, and will play six of its next seven games at home as it tries to secure a place in the postseason tournament. The Sharks (34-25-10, 78 points) enter Thursdays game with the Predators (41-21-7, 89 points) on the outside looking in two points back of eighth place Colorado, and tied for ninth with Calgary and Los Angeles.
NEWS: Sharks activate Havlat, will face Nashville
If this is not the time, theres no other time, Ryane Clowe said. We know weve got a couple games in hand, so weve got to win those games and take care of our own business.
Weve got to get some consistency and a streak going at home here. Thats something we probably havent had all year. Get on a hot streak at home, and youve got to win those home games. Were looking forward to this.
It has been a miserable six weeks for the Sharks, who just concluded a four-game road trip with a 1-1-2 mark. San Jose has just one win in its last six games (1-3-3), and three in the last 15 (3-8-4).
We know whats ahead of us. I keep telling you that all along. We believe with the games that we have left we can control where we end up, or at least the input into the games, Todd McLellan said. Cant always control the results the other team has a say in that but we can control what goes into the games and we look forward to that opportunity.
Preds among NHL's best: The Predators have no worries when it comes to making the playoffs, as Nashville is in third place in the loaded Central Division and fifth overall in the West.
Unlike the Sharks, the Predators acquisitions at and before the trade deadline have paid dividends. Andrei Kostitsyn, Paul Gaustad and Hal Gill all help make the Predators a popular sleeper pick to win the Stanley Cup. Kostitsyn has three goals and three assists for six points in his first six games with Nashville, while Gaustad has three assists in five games.
They are 2-1-0 against the Sharks in the season series so far, with tonights game the fourth and final head-to-head matchup.
Joe Thornton said: Theyre just very competitive. Have got great goaltending, solid D, depth up front. This is going to be a big challenge for us tonight.
We know theyre a good team. The first thing you look at is their goaltending. Weve got to get to him tonight, said Clowe, referring, of course, to Nashvilles star netminder, Pekka Rinne.
The Sharks won 3-1 at Nashville on Oct. 21, but lost at home in overtime on Nov. 5, 4-3. The most recent matchup came on San Jose's miserable nine-game road trip, when it lost 6-2 at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 25.
Where are the goals? The Sharks have just eight goals in their last 12 games, and have gotten hardly any recent contributions outside of big guns Joe Thornton (1g, 5a in last three games) and Logan Couture (3g in last three games).
In the last eight games, Clowe has a single goal; Joe Pavelski has a goal and an assist, while Patrick Marleau has a goal and two assists.
Clowe, who is expected to play with Marleau and Havlat on the second line, hopes Havlats return sparks more offense.
With Marty back our lines are fitting in pretty nice right now. I think its going to be a pretty good time for us to make a move and show our depth, he said.
Niemi to get ninth straight start: McLellan said before the Calgary game on Tuesday that Antti Niemi is his go-to guy" at the "go-to time of year, so its no surprise that Niemi will get his ninth straight start tonight against Nashville.
In eight career games against the Predators, Niemi is 4-3-1 with a 2.71 goals-against average but just an .899 save percentage.
Rinne, of course, goes for Nashville. Hes 5-2-3 in 11 career games against the Sharks, with a 2.43 GAA and .932 SP.
Lineup look: Tommy Wingels remains out for the Sharks with an upper body injury that he said is not related to his nine-game absence earlier this year. He skated with the team on Monday, but offered no timetable for his return.
The Sharks defense will likely remain unchanged from the last two games, with Colin White and Jim Vandermeer sitting out. Based on the morning skate, Michal Handzus and Brad Winchester will also be healthy scratches.
The Predators remain without defenseman Kevin Klein.
Odds and ends: Nashville is 2-0-1 in its last three visits to San Jose. The Predators won in Phoenix on Monday, 5-4 in a shootout, despite surrendering a 4-2 lead in the third period. San Jose is without a power play goal in its last four home games (0-for-8). Other games to watch tonight are Colorado at New Jersey, and Phoenix at Calgary.