SAN JOSE – Tommy Wingels will return to the Sharks’ lineup on Saturday after a five-game absence, but backup goaltender Thomas Greiss will not suit up when San Jose hosts St. Louis in an afternoon tilt at HP Pavilion.
“Joe is a pretty easy guy to play with,” said Wingels, who was hurt after crashing into the boards face first in Dallas on Feb. 23. “He obviously sees the ice as good as anyone in the game. I’ll just try to get open for him, and try to win a few puck battles out there.”
Wingels has a goal and four assists in 16 games, and his physicality is one of the keys to his being effective. In fact, he’s been credited with 51 hits, leading the team.
At the same time, it’s also forced him to sidelines. Wingels missed 14 games with two different upper body injuries in the second half of 2011-12, primarily due to his aggressiveness and willingness to sacrifice his body.
Don’t expect him to alter his game just to avoid getting hurt, though.
“If you’re cognizant of it and think about it too much, you’re slow in getting to the play you want to get at,” Wingels said. ‘If you take that extra second, should you go or should you not, the play is already probably past you. I try to read and react as quickly as I can.
“I like to play that physical style, get in there and throw my body around. Unfortunately, it’s a few bad breaks I’ve had here, but it’s not going to change the way I play at all.”
As for Greiss, the goaltender is suffering from what Todd McLellan labeled a sore neck. Greiss was run over by a couple Flames in the second period on Wednesday in Calgary, and it took him some time to get back on his skates before he continued the game.
“He was involved in a collision in Calgary, and the next day woke up with a sore neck, and stiff,” McLellan said. “As a goaltender, that’s not a good thing. He’s getting treatments, and hopefully he’ll be back quickly.”
After staying in the game on Wednesday, Greiss allowed a bad angle goal by Blake Comeau that held up as the game-winner in the 4-1 Flames win.
“The question will be why did he play in the third period? He and the medical staff felt very comfortable with where he was at,” McLellan said. “I talked to Wayne Thomas, our goaltending coach, he felt like [Greiss] reacted very well on a number of plays. There will be discussion about the second goal, which wasn’t a great one. Other than that, I don’t think that had a factor to play in it.”
San Francisco Bulls (ECHL) goalie Thomas Heemskerk was recalled and filled in for Greiss at practice on Friday, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he will be the backup for Antti Niemi against the Blues. Worcester goalies Alex Stalock and Harri Sateri are further up the depth chart than Heemskerk, and if Greiss is due to miss multiple games, Stalock would be the most likely long-term option.
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Brent Burns skated for the first time since he was hurt in Dallas on Feb. 23, while Couture came off of the ice midway through practice. Couture could still be suffering from the effects of a blocked shot late in the 2-1 win over Nashville on March 2, when Roman Josi’s blast late in the game hit him in the foot.
“Just maintenance for him. He got out and got a bit of a skate in. He’ll play tomorrow, I’m pretty sure of that,” McLellan said of Couture.
Bracken Kearns, who played on Tuesday in Vancouver but not in Calgary, was reassigned to Worcester.
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The Blues will make their first visit to HP Pavilion since eliminating the Sharks from the playoffs last April. The Sharks won at Scottrade Center on Feb. 19, 2-1, in what was the only win on their six-game road swing. The Blues had travel problems before that game, and didn’t arrive home until the early morning hours that day.
St. Louis led the NHL in goals-against average last season with 1.89, and held the Sharks to eight goals in the five-game first round playoff series. This season, the Blues are just 24th in the NHL, allowing an even three goals per game. They’re one of four teams in the bunched up Western Conference with 26 points, along with the Sharks, Kings and Stars.
“St. Louis is a team we like to play against,” Wingels said. “They play a tough game, in the sense that they’re very disciplined, well coached and finish their checks and support all over the ice. We’re up for it.”
Thornton and Tim Kennedy scored for the Sharks that 2-1 win against St. Louis, while Niemi made 25 saves.
“Really heavy forecheck, create lots of people and pucks to the net,” Niemi said of the Blues’ style. “A simple, hard game.”
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Along with the Thornton, Couture and Wingels line, the Sharks’ bottom three lines were similar to how they started against Calgary.
Patrick Marleau skated between Kennedy and Joe Pavelski, while Scott Gomez centered Ryane Clowe and James Sheppard. The fourth line consisted of Michal Handzus, Adam Burish and one of either TJ Galiardi or Andrew Desjardins.