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SAN JOSE Since the calendar turned to 2012, the Sharks and Ottawa Senators have been among the two hottest teams in hockey. In fact, both are 7-1-1 since the New Year began.
The Sharks were expected to be in prime playoff position, as they continue to lead the Pacific Division, but the Senators? Not so much. Ottawa finished in 13th place last season, just two points out of dead last in the Eastern Conference. Now, they find themselves in fifth place in the conference, and are surging with a 9-1-1 mark in their last 11 overall.
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Theyre arguably the biggest surprise. Especially in the east, for sure, Dan Boyle said. They went from being one of the worst teams to one of the best right now. Theyre coming in hot, and we expect a pretty fast-paced game.
Theyre all the way up to the fifth spot in the east, so theyve been playing well. Its going to be a good test for us, Joe Thornton said.
The Senators play a fairly wide-open style. They are seventh in the league with an even 3.0 goals-per game, led by Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek and defenseman Erik Karlsson, but allow 3.08 per-game, 27th in the NHL.
Familiar coaches: Sharks head coach Todd McLellan and Sens bench boss Paul MacLean spent three seasons together as assistants in the Detroit Red Wings organization from 2005-06 through 2007-08. McLellan left to coach the Sharks, while MacLean took over the Senators this summer after three more seasons with the Red Wings.
Hes done such a good job in instilling a system and getting the players to believe in it, McLellan said of MacLeans Senators. I think when you watch the pre-scout its pretty evident. Obviously, spending time with him and Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock, I have a good idea of how they want to play, and you can see it. I think thats a sign of a coach doing a tremendous job.
Both coaches see similarities not just between the Sharks and Senators, but the Red Wings, too.
It looks like theyre having fun playing the game. It looks like they have in identity, McLellan said. They are a very dynamic offensive team when they are on the entries. Their defense it up on the rush. Very much like a Red Wing team.
There are similarities between all three teams, Id say, but each person also brings their own little tweak or own thing that they might think is a little bit more important, MacLean said.
Top lines: Injuries to Ryane Clowe and Marty Havlat leave the Sharks down two of their top six forwards, and based upon his game on Tuesday night against Calgary and rushes in practice on Wednesday, Tommy Wingels will remain on the teams top line with Thornton and Joe Pavelski.
Hes a pretty calm guy in general, and it didnt really phase him, Thornton said of the rookie Wingels being on his line. Hopefully we get some chemistry, and get er going.
That leaves a second line of Logan Couture-Patrick Marleau-Benn Ferriero; a third line of Michal Handzus-Jamie McGinn-Torrey Mitchell; and a likely fourth line of Andrew Murray-Brad Winchester and Andrew Desjardins, who is returning from a two game absence due to a head injury.
Rare meeting: This is the one and only time the Sharks and Senators will see each other this season. The previous time they played, over a year ago on Dec. 10, 2010, was a memorable one, though.
Couture scored twice for the first two-goal game of his career; Antti Niemi recorded his first shutout with the Sharks; and Justin Braun tallied his first career NHL goal in a 4-0 San Jose win at Ottawa.
This is Ottawas first visit to HP Pavilion since Dec. 1, 2009.
Niemi vs. Anderson: Niemi will get the call in net for the Sharks, facing Ottawas Craig Anderson.
In his last 26 starts, Niemi 16-6-4 with a 2.04 goals-against average and .928 save percentage. Last years shutout was the only time hes faced Ottawa in his career.
Anderson has not fared well against San Jose. In eight career games, hes 2-6-0 with a 3.42 goals-against average and .905 save percentage.
Anderson will be making his sixth straight start, and has not allowed more than two goals and has a .960 save percentage over that span, though.
Odds and ends: Ottawa allows the second-most shots per game in the league, at 32.1. The Sharks lead the NHL in that category with 34.6. The Senators have 67 third period goals most in the NHL. Ottawa is third in the league with 14.5 penalty minutes per game. Erik Karlsson leads all NHL defensemen with 44 points, 10 more than Brian Campbell. Jason Spezza leads Ottawa with 48 points (20g ,28a). San Jose is 5-1-1 against Canadian teams this season. The Sharks have won their last five meetings overall with the Sens.