Programming note: Sharks-Blue Jackets coverage gets underway today at 4:00 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California.
COLUMBUS – The Sharks’ annual road trip last February was when the 2011-12 season started to go off the rails. San Jose went just 2-6-1 on the nine-game, 17-day trip, and scuffled just to make it into the playoffs.
The situation is much different now, as the SAP Open tennis tournament moves into HP Pavilion. The shortened season and some recent days off means the Sharks should be refreshed and ready to go when the puck drops in the first of six straight on the road on Monday in Columbus.
“It’s a totally new year. It’s different, and different circumstances,” Joe Pavelski said.
Dan Boyle said: “We’re only 11 games in now, versus whatever it was. There’s no excuses.”
The Sharks will face some strong teams on the trip including Nashville, St. Louis, and Chicago twice. The Blue Jackets are in last place in the Western Conference, and should be the easiest of the six.
A win tonight would put an end to the Sharks’ four-game losing streak, while a loss would open them up to a much more prolonged slump. It could be argued this is the most important game of the young season so far.
The Blue Jackets outplayed the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday night, outshooting them 40-14, but still lost 3-1. The Sharks coaching staff got a chance to see the game in person, as San Jose flew to Columbus immediately following their shootout loss to Phoenix at home on Saturday afternoon.
“In my opinion, they were the better team,” McLellan said of the Blue Jackets. “They went after Edmonton pretty hard, and created a number of scoring chances. They were very effective in the offensive zone.”
Boyle said: “I’ve seen a couple of their games, and they work hard. They don’t have a lot of big name players, but you don’t need that, as long as you work hard. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you don’t let up because you’re playing one team.”
The Sharks, who play in Nashville on Tuesday, will actually return to the Bay Area for a couple days after the game in Chicago this Friday.
“It’s a three game road trip we’re looking at, versus [six],” Boyle said. “You’ve just got to take care of business.”
Pelech arrives, Murray back in?
The Sharks will have a new face in the lineup as 6-4, 235-pound Matt Pelech was recalled from Worcester. Pelech will play forward on Monday, as Andrew Desjardins still has the flu, according to McLellan.
Interestingly, Pelech was playing defense when he was in training camp, but will likely play as a fourth line winger against the Blue Jackets.
“He’s a utility guy. He provides some depth on the blue line, but can also play the wing. A little more size and a little more strength then we’ve had there,” McLellan said.
Pelech is third in the AHL with 177 penalty minutes in 34 games, and has been suspended twice. He attended the abbreviated weeklong training camp in January.
“In a week like that there’s a lot of info being thrown at you, and you try to take as much of it as you can, so when you come back up here you can fit in right away,” Pelech said.
As far as other changes to the Sharks’ lineup, Douglas Murray came off of the ice well before Jason Demers, which could signal Murray’s return after a one-game absence.
Thomas Greiss (1-1-0, 1.01 GAA, .964 SP) will make his third start of the season against Columbus’ Steve Mason (1-4-0, 3.00 GAA, .900 SP), who has split time with Sergei Bobrovsky, who played last night.
Greiss took the loss in his last outing, 2-1 in Anaheim on Feb. 4. He surrendered the game-tying goal in the third period on a bad bounce off of the boards. On Jan. 26, Greiss notched his first NHL shutout against Colorado.
“Both his games, he’s been very solid,” McLellan said. “He gets beat on the trick goal in Anaheim off the boards, and you can’t blame him for that. He’s been one goal against basically in two games. Not a lot of rebounds, and guys enjoy when he’s in the net. We feel comfortable with him.”
In four games against Columbus, Greiss is 2-2-0 with a 1.88 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.
In 11 career games against the Sharks, Mason is 4-6-1 with a 2.78 GAA and .923 SP.
Jackets talk Sharks
Here’s Columbus head coach (and former Sharks assistant) Todd Richards on the Sharks:
“To me, they are a really motivated group,” Richards said. “They’re big, they play with speed, they have an identity how they play, and they’re a fast team. What makes them fast is how they move the puck. They’ve got guys that can get up and down the ice, but they play a game where their execution is sharp, which allows them to play faster.”
Defenseman James Wisniewski also mentioned the Sharks’ speed, after the Blue Jackets’ optional skate at Nationwide Arena.
“They’re big, strong and fast,” he said. “Our defensive zone coverage has to be very solid. Structurally, we have to play perfect and help each other out. Mistakes are going to happen, and you have to back your teammates up.”
The Blue Jackets are wrapping up a six-game homestand in which they are just 1-3-1 so far. They begin a six-game road trip of their own on Friday in Los Angeles.
“We have three days before the next game, so you just have to leave it all on the line. Day off tomorrow, so just absolutely play your heart out for 60 minutes,” Wisniewski said.