Sharks-Stars: What to watch for

Sharks-Stars: What to watch for
February 2, 2012, 8:34 pm
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PROGRAMMING NOTE: Sharks Pregame Live begins at 7:00 on CSN California, followed by Sharks-Dallas at 7:30, and Sharks Postgame Live at 10:00.
SAN JOSE Ryane Clowe is back, but Antti Niemi is out. That was the biggest development at Thursdays morning skate at HP Pavilion as the Sharks get set to host the Dallas Stars.

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For Clowe, it will be his first game since missing the last six with a facial fracture. Hes had some run-ins with the physical Stars in the past, but doesnt expect to alter his approach despite the injury.
I dont think it will change my style. I cant be cautious, Clowe said. I wouldnt play if I felt I had to be timid out there. Ill be my normal self, I think.

The rugged winger is expected to return to his normal place on the second line with Logan Couture on one side, Todd McLellan said. That will likely put Patrick Marleau back on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, while Andrew Desjardins can go back to centering the fourth line.

Marleaus goal against the Blue Jackets ended a six-game scoreless streak for the winger.
Life of a backup: Thomas Greiss will get the call in net, and has been outstanding as the Sharks backup goaltender. His goals-against average is now under two (1.98) after holding the Edmonton Oilers to one regulation goal in a 2-1 shootout loss on Jan. 23.

Thats my job description, thats what Im here for, he said of filling in for Niemi, who suffered a minor injury in practice on Wednesday, on short notice.

Hell also get an opportunity to increase the Sharks current opponent scoreless streak of 158:10. San Jose hasnt allowed a goal since Jordan Eberle beat Greiss in the second period of the game against the Oilers, and Niemi shut out Calgary and Columbus in the next two games.

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The Sharks team defense has been outstanding, too.

Nemo had been playing great but also the defense limiting odd-man rushes. The defense has been great, too, Greiss said.

Tyson Sexsmith, recalled from Worcester, will serve as Greiss backup while Antero Niittymaki has been assigned to the Sharks AHL affiliate.

Dallas could go with backup Richard Bachman tonight, after Kari Lehtonen led the Stars to a 6-2 win in Anaheim last night. Bachman played 11 minutes in relief of Andrew Raycroft, who has since been reassigned to the AHL, in the Stars 5-2 loss in San Jose on Dec. 8 without allowing a goal.

Keep the offense rolling: The Sharks had trouble scoring goals in their games leading into the All-Star break, but exploded for six against the Blue Jackets on Tuesday night. Several of them came off of bad turnovers and inept play by last place Columbus, but the Sharks were still able to capitalize on their chances.

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Jamie McGinn, who had a goal and an assist to break a personal five-game scoreless streak, was asked how the Sharks could keep the goals coming against Dallas.

We talked about second and third chance opportunities, and you look at a lot of our goals last game, thats where they came from, McGinn said. I think if we do a good job of getting body position on their defense and getting pucks to the paint and whacking away, theyre bound to go in.

San Jose combined for six goals in their previous four games before equaling that number in one game against the Blue Jackets.

Falling Stars: Dallas led the Pacific Division early in the year, but finds itself on the outside looking in today in terms of playoff position. The Stars (26-21-2) have 54 points, putting them in ninth place in the Western Conference, one point behind eighth place Minnesota.

Prior to a pair of regulation wins against the Ducks in the games immediately preceding and following the All-Star break, the Stars had lost six of seven games (1-5-1), with the lone win coming via a shootout over the Kings on Jan. 12.

Should they lose tonight in regulation to the Sharks, the Stars would be a full 10 points behind San Jose for the Pacific Division lead, and could probably wave goodbye to any chance of winning the division.

Interestingly enough, the Stars have been better against the other Pacific Division clubs. They are 0-2 vs. the Sharks this season, but 9-4-0 against the rest of the division, including a 4-1-0 mark with Anaheim.

The Sharks have won both games with Dallas by a combined 9-3 score, but are just 4-5-0 against the rest of the Pacific with a -1 goal differential and have been shut out three times.

In the two games this season, the teams have combined for 134 penalty minutes, including 100 in a 4-1 Sharks win in Dallas on Nov. 19.

Theyre always hard, physical battles against Dallas. Weve come to expect that, McLellan said.

Its always a chippy game against Dallas, McGinn said. They play us hard and we play them hard. Its good to get our competition level up. I think that really helps the team. We expect the same tonight, and well be battling for every opportunity and every goal.
Odds and ends: Jason Demers was placed on injured reserve with a lower body injury. ... Dallas is 0-7-1 in the second of back-to-back games. Logan Couture has a four-game point streak, with six total in that span (3g, 3a). The Sharks have won their last four games against Dallas, outscoring the Stars 21-6 in the process. Joe Thornton has two goals and six assists in his last four games against Dallas. Hes coming off of a two goal, one assist performance against the Blue Jackets. Stars leading scorer Jamie Benn returned last night after missing the previous five games following an emergency appendectomy.