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.