Sharks-Wild: What to watch for

January 10, 2012, 6:16 pm
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PROGRAMMING NOTE: Kevin Kurz will be chatting with Sharks fans for the hour leading up to the game. Ask our Insider all the pointed questions at 3:30 p.m.! And remember, tonight's game airs on the NBC Sports Network (@NBCSN) at 4:30 p.m.

ST. PAUL Sharks defenseman Brent Burns rubbed some of his former hometown fans the wrong way earlier this season, when he said that he hoped the Wild would lose every game. Burns spent the first seven seasons of his NHL career playing in Minnesota.

Even though that comment was made tongue-in-cheek, Burns seems to be getting his wish. The Wild have dropped 11 of their last 12 games (1-8-3) heading into tonights game at the Xcel Energy Center against the visiting Sharks.

I took a lot of heat for that, but I think its just my competitiveness. Obviously, when they get rid of you, you dont want them to succeed without you, Burns said, before adding that he still has many friends on the Wild hed like to see do well.

The Sharks and Wild have met twice so far, both at HP Pavilion, splitting the first two games. Since they last met, though, a 2-1 Wild win on Dec. 6, Minnesota is just 3-8-3 while the surging Sharks are 9-2-3.

San Jose has points in 11 of its last 12 games overall (8-1-3), including four straight wins.

The league is so tight, every team goes through little swings. Obviously, we did at the start of the year, too, Burns said. Its so hard, every game is so tough and every team is so tight. Its tough to win.

"Right now were fining ways to do it, and Im sure theyre going to find their way, too. Hopefully its not against us, though.

Road journey begins: The Sharks will play 17 of their next 23 games on the road, beginning tonight. Although that stretch is broken up by the All-Star break at the end of this month, thats an intimidating number of games away from the home fans.

Obviously, theyd like to get off on the right foot tonight against Minnesota.

Managing your time, your body, all that stuff will come into play, trying to get your rest, Joe Pavelski said. Getting off to some early success definitely helps.

The Sharks are 9-4-2 on the road, and seem to be excited about the prospect of spending more time together during a grinding part of the season, according to Joe Thornton.

We have a tight bond. Everybody gets along good. I think with us, because we travel so much, it makes guys get along, he said. Were always on 10, 14-day road trips. I think our bond gets closer. We enjoy the road and going out to dinner together, so it makes it that much more fun.

We really enjoy playing at home and it helps with the crowd and stuff, but were going to try and bring our same game and guys are prepared and ready to play on the road, Pavelski said.

San Jose visits Winnipeg, Columbus and Chicago before briefly returning home for two games next week.

Our resiliency will be tested, not only on this trip but heading forward, McLellan said. I think weve already reached that challenging phase, and this is a new chapter within that.

Better when theyre tired? The Sharks recently completed a stretch of four games in six nights, winning all four, and seemed to get better with each passing game. That culminated on Saturday with a 5-2 win over the Washington Capitals in one of the more complete, 60-minute efforts the club has played all season.

Thats not a coincidence to McLellan, who said that the team is better at positional play when it may be a little tired. The trick is carrying that into tonights game with Minnesota after two days off between games.

The thing with our team is when we have a fatigue element or a simple approach to the game we tend to be better, he said. That was four games in six nights for us. We now have fresh legs underneath us, so the trick will be to manage the game the same way we did against Washington. Play situations the same way, be patient, but not on our heels.

Lineup unchanged: By the look of the optional morning skate, the Sharks lineup will remain unchanged from Saturdays win. That means Andrew Murray and Frazer McLaren are out, and Antti Niemi will start in goal.

Defensemen Colin White and Jim Vandermeer remain on injured reserve. White, who has missed the last five games with a lower body injury, is on the road trip, as is James Sheppard.

Torrey Mitchell will look to follow up on his strong performance against the Capitals, when he finished with an empty-net goal and an assist. Mitchell was a healthy scratch against Columbus in the Sharks previous game.

Niemi vs. Harding: The Sharks will go with Niemi in net, who will be opposed by the Wilds Josh Harding.

In five career starts against the Wild, including two this season, Niemi is 4-1 with a 1.61 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. Harding has struggled vs. San Jose, with an 0-1 record, 5.90 goals-against average and .864 save percentage in two games.
Odds and ends: Minnesota will be without Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who will be out indefinitely with a concussion, the team announced on Tuesday. Tonights game is a national broadcast on the NBC Sports Network (4:30 p.m. PST). The Wild are 2-2-2 in their last six home games. Patrick Marleau has a five-game point streak (2g, 5a). Jason Demers has a goal and three assists in his last three games. The Wild are 29th in the league in goals per game, with just 2.19. Only Los Angeles has fewer (2.09).