Sharks-Red Wings: What to watch for

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Sharks-Red Wings: What to watch for

SAN JOSE For the first time in weeks, the San Jose Sharks will face a team thats struggling to get a win even more than they are.

The Detroit Red Wings visit HP Pavilion tonight, looking to avoid their first four-game losing streak since October. Meanwhile, the Sharks are finally showing signs of gaining momentum, with wins in two of their last three games and points in five of the last six (2-1-3).

The Sharks will try for back-to-back victories for the first time since Jan. 31 Feb. 2, after beating the Predators, 2-1, in a shootout at home on Thursday.

Winning a shootout is something we havent done in awhile, so that lifts us a bit, Todd McLellan said. Playing at home, challenged by a good team, we should have a little momentum and feel a little better about ourselves than we did two weeks ago.

We worked hard 60 minutes, found a way to win, so just build from that, Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. Get pucks to the net, keep crashing the net, a lot of good offensive plays last game, the D were involved in the rush. All those things weve done in the past, just keep doing that.

Niemi going strong: Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi will make his 10th straight start tonight, facing Detroits Jimmy Howard.

Niemi has allowed just 18 goals over his last nine starts (3-3-3). McLellan senses his goaltender is settling in for the stretch run.

I do sense that hes starting to feel more comfortable. He knows when he wakes up in the morning that hes coming to the rink to play, said the head coach. Hes tightened things up since the road trip, and weve tightened up around him defensively since the road trip. Thats something that well need tonight.

In 10 career regular season games against Detroit, Niemi is 7-2-1 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

Howard is just 3-4-1 with a sub par 3.12 GAA and .903 SP against San Jose.

Datsyuk in, Franzen and Lidstrom out: The Red Wings will welcome Pavel Datsyuk back to the lineup tonight, after the center has missed 11 games with a knee injury. His absence, though, seems to have given head coach Mike Babcock a chance to assess the rest of his team.

I think any time you have injuries its great because you get to evaluate what you have, the Red Wings' coach said on Saturday. You get to see who can do it by themselves, and whos a support player. Obviously, weve seen some support players. When youre a dominant player like Pavel, you can drag people along, and he makes a line go by himself.

Datsyuk is expected to play with Todd Bertuzzi and Danny Cleary, and that line will likely see a healthy dose of Sharks defensemen Vlasic and Dan Boyle.

Hes probably the top guy with the puck in the whole league and the world, Boyle said. You cant bite on anything. If you bite on any of the moves theres a very good chance youre going to get beat. Its important to keep him between yourself and your goalie and try to keep him on the outside as best you can.

Johan Franzen, however, will miss the game with back spasms after leaving Detroits practice early on Friday. So will Nicklas Lidstrom, who has missed eight straight games with a bruised ankle and flew home to Detroit ahead of the team.

He means a lot to that team, obviously Im well aware of that from just the locker room out, said McLellan, a former assistant coach with Detroit, of Lidstrom. The rest of the hockey world gets to see him play every night, and when you combine both hes as good as there is. Not having him in is certainly is an advantage or us, but that opens up advantages on there team for others to step up.

Detroits power play hasnt scored in its last 28 tries with Lidstrom out of the lineup.
Crash the net: The Sharks have just 13 goals in their last nine games, and, as is often the case when a team is struggling to find the scoreboard, the players say that getting to the net more is the way to change that.

Just getting quality shots through, and traffic, Justin Braun said. The goalies are good, youre not going to beat them clean from the point very often. If we can get some traffic, get some rebounds, that will help us out.

The Sharks lead the league in 34.4 shots per game, but many of them are too routine for the opposing goalie.

We get a lot of pucks to the net. I think we could get in front of the goalie more, Vlasic said.

Familiarity breeds contempt: The Sharks have won two of three games against the Red Wings, but dropped a 3-2 decision in the most recent match up at Joe Louis Arena on Feb. 19. That was the 23rd and final win of the Red Wings record home streak.

San Jose, of course, has knocked Detroit from the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. These are two teams that know each other well.

Weve played this team more than anybody else in the last two or three years, so not a lot of secrets, McLellan said.

Its a relatively easy game to prepare for; a very tough game to play.

Overall, San Jose has won five of the last six regular season games.

Its a very easy game to get up for. Weve done a good job, Boyle said.

Odds and ends: The Sharks enter tonights game in ninth place in the Western Conference, but could move as high as seventh following tonights action. Other games to watch include Colorado at the Rangers and Nashville at Los Angeles. Detroit has lost seven of eight on the road, and is 16-20-1 overall away from home. Patrick Marleau has an assist in three straight games. Detroits Valtteri Filppula has five points in the last five games. Joe Thornton has eight points (2g, 6a) in the last five games. Tommy Wingels remains out with an upper body injury. ... Brad Winchester will likely return to the lineup, possibly in place of Benn Ferriero. Colin White, Michal Handzus and Jim Vandermeer are also probable scratches.

NHL Gameday: Couture in, Schlemko out for Sharks vs Sens

NHL Gameday: Couture in, Schlemko out for Sharks vs Sens

Programming note – Sharks-Senators coverage starts today at 7:00 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 15-9-1, 31 points, 2nd Pacific Division
Senators: 15-9-2, 32 points, 2nd Atlantic Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***After undergoing a minor surgical procedure on Saturday to get a screw removed from his previously repaired ankle, Logan Couture is good go to against the Senators. Couture has eight points (6g, 2a) in his last nine games.

Defenseman David Schlemko, though, is out with an apparent leg or ankle injury after he was hurt – but later returned – against Montreal on Friday. Pete DeBoer indicated Schlemko’s injury isn’t serious.

“I came back from our weekend off and all the news was positive, so I would say he’s day-to-day,” said the coach.

Dylan DeMelo will draw in on the third pair with Brenden Dillon. Mirco Mueller was also recalled from the Barracuda.

***The Sharks resume their schedule after a rare four-day break, and will attempt to pick up where they left off. Friday’s 2-1 win over the Canadiens was their sixth in the last seven games.

“I know we’re recharged mentally and physically, but we’ve got to find that level again as quickly as possible and hopefully it doesn’t take too long tonight,” Pete DeBoer said.

Couture said the approach would be to, “just try and keep it simple. Stay out of the box, forecheck on them, get some shifts where we’re not caught in our own end.”

***Ottawa will be playing the second of a difficult four-game road trip. They were spanked by the Penguins on Monday, 8-5, and flew across the country on Tuesday.

If they are looking for sympathy for their schedule, they won’t get it from the Sharks’ coach.

“I find it sometimes a little comical when I hear Eastern teams complaining about travel and road trips. I read something that they were not happy with their schedule. Give me a break,” DeBoer said with a smile. “It’s what we deal with, and you do the best you can."

Ottawa is 6-4-0 on the road, while San Jose is 9-3-0 at SAP Center.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Martin Jones. The Sharks goalie has been a rock during the team’s recent upswing, and his 1.99 goals-against average for the season in good for fifth in the NHL (minimum eight games played). Since getting pulled against the Penguins on Nov. 5, Jones is 8-2-1 with a 1.46 GAA and .945 SP and two shutouts. On Monday, he was named as the NHL’s Third Star of the Week.

Senators: Erik Karlsson. Karlsson leads the Senators in scoring with 24 points (6g, 18a), surpassing Brent Burns for most in the league among defensemen. The two-time Norris Trophy winner and Ottawa captain posted four points on Monday in Pittsburgh (1g, 3a), and has nine points in his last eight games. He’s third in the league in average time on ice (27:16 per game).

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Patrick Marleau – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Melker Karlsson – Logan Couture – Joel Ward
Mikkel Boedker – Chris Tierney – Joonas Donskoi
Kevin Labanc – Tommy Wingels – Micheal Haley

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – Dylan DeMelo

Martin Jones (starter)
Aaron Dell

Senators
Mike Hoffman – Derick Brassard – Mark Stone
Ryan Dzingel – Kyle Turris – Bobby Ryan
Zack Smith – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Tom Pyatt
Buddy Robinson – Chris Kelly – Chris Neil

Andreas Englund – Erik Karlsson
Dion Phaneuf – Cody Ceci
Mark Borowiecki – Chris Wideman

Mike Condon (starter)
Andrew Hammond

INJURIES/SCRATCHES

Sharks: David Schlemko (lower body) and Tomas Hertl (right knee sprain) are out.

Senators: Marc Methot (hip), Fredrik Claesson (lower body), Curtis Lazar (concussion) are Craig Anderson (personal) are out. 

QUOTEABLE

“I think I have a lot to improve. I think 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 want to score more.” – Joonas Donskoi

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].”