Sharks look to avoid letdown in Pittsburgh

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Sharks look to avoid letdown in Pittsburgh

Feb. 23, 2011

SHARKS (34-21-6) vs.
PITTSBURGH (36-20-5)

Coverage begins at 4 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The San Jose Sharks have been awfully good defensively during their second-half resurgence, never allowing more than three goals during a stretch that's seen them win 13 of 16.

Holding the Pittsburgh Penguins down isn't nearly the challenge that it once was.

The Sharks seek a season high-tying fifth consecutive victory Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins hope the acquisition of forward James Neal will give their floundering offense a boost.

NEWS: NHL standings

San Jose (33-21-6) allowed 2.80 goals per game during a 21-19-5 start that had it in 10th place in the Western Conference.

It was hard to believe one of the league's best regular-season teams over the past decade was in danger of missing the playoffs, but the Sharks are back among the West's top four after allowing an average of 1.81 goals over their past 16.

They improved to 13-2-1 in that stretch - and stayed just a point behind Pacific Division-leading Phoenix - with a 4-3 win at Detroit on Tuesday.

REWIND: Sharks hang on to defeat Red Wings

"Our playoffs started 15 games ago," said captain Joe Thornton, who scored his 300th career goal and assisted on both of Devin Setoguchi's tallies.

The Penguins (36-20-5) are also in fourth place in their conference, but the explosive offense that helped carry them to two of the past three Stanley Cup finals is a shell of what it once was.

After initially surviving without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and a lineup that's currently missing eight other forwards, Pittsburgh is starting to stumble. The Penguins have scored 14 goals over their last eight games.

RELATED: Spotlight on Pittsburgh

That's why general manager Ray Shero made a move Monday, trading defenseman Alex Goligoski to Dallas for Neal - a 20-goal scorer in each of his first three seasons - and defenseman Matt Niskanen.

"There's not many of these power guys in the game," Shero said of the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Neal. "And (James), on our list, is one of the better ones in the game and has got some room to grow. That's why when you can get a guy like Neal - the opportunity might not be there again."

Hours after the trade, Pittsburgh showed why the addition of Neal was so necessary. Despite putting 39 shots on goal at Michal Neuvirth, the Penguins were beaten 1-0 by Washington.

Five of those shots came from center Jordan Staal, who saw his five-game point streak end. Coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday that he'll install Neal on the left side of the team's top line with Staal and Tyler Kennedy.

"I think (Neal is) going to make us a better team going into (Wednesday's) game and give us a chance to get what we need to get wins," Bylsma said. "With Jordan, I can see them being a real formidable pair."

With top defenseman Paul Martin out Wednesday with an upper-body injury, Niskanen is expected to join Kris Letang on the team's No. 1 power-play unit.

The Penguins haven't scored more than two goals against San Jose in seven meetings since December 2002, as the Sharks have gone 6-0-1.

Thornton has rarely done anything but win versus Pittsburgh. Dating to his days with Boston, Thornton's teams are 15-1-2 against the Penguins since December 2001.

He has 10 goals and 25 assists in those contests.

NOTES
This will be the first meeting between these teams since the Sharks routed Pittsburgh, 5-0, on November 7, 2009. The victory improved San Jose's record to 12-1-1-1 in the series since April 1998. ... The Sharks won their fourth game in a row with a 4-3 victory at Detroit on Tuesday. Their 13-2-1 record since January 15 represents the best winning percentage (.844) in the Western Conference over that span. ... After getting shut out on Monday, 1-0, the Penguins have failed to score more than three goals in 14 consecutive games, their longest such streak since 2003. ... Dany Heatley has scored 20 goals in 26 career games against the Penguins, the best rate (0.77 goals per game) by any active skater versus Pittsburgh (minimum 10 games). ... Devin Setoguchi followed his hat trick versus Colorado on Saturday with another two goals on Tuesday. He sports a 7 rating over his past 14 games after producing a mark of -15 over his first 38 games of the season. ... New Penguin James Neal has scored 10 points against San Jose in his career, his second-highest total versus any opponent (11 versus Anaheim). His six career goals against the Sharks are tied for his second most versus any foe (seven versus Edmonton).

Bumgarner allows two runs, Giants start spring training with walk-off homer

Bumgarner allows two runs, Giants start spring training with walk-off homer

BOX SCORE

At Scottsdale, Arizona, Chris Marrero hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth and drove in four runs as the Giants rallied after Madison Bumgarner gave up two runs on two hits in the top of the first.

Marrero, a 2006 first-round draft pick of the Nationals trying to revive his career as a non-roster invitee, had an RBI single in the fifth.

Kevin Shackelford, the seventh Cincinnati pitcher, walked Orlando Calixte to open the ninth and Christian Arroyo blooped a single into left field before Marrero hit a line drive over the wall in left centerfield.

Patrick Kivlehan had a two-run single off Bumgarner in the first and Hunter Pence doubled in a run off Reds starter Rookie Davis. Davis, acquired from the Yankees in the Aroldis Chapman deal, is likely to open with Double-A Pensacola this year.

Sharks recall trio as bye week concludes

Sharks recall trio as bye week concludes

VANCOUVER – Kevin Labanc, Barclay Goodrow and Tim Heed have accompanied the Sharks to Vancouver, and will presumably be available to play against the Canucks on Saturday in the first game after the bye week.

Forwards Timo Meier, Nikolay Goldobin and Marcus Sorensen, all of whom have played games with the NHL club this season, remain with the AHL Barracuda for the time being.

Labanc, 21, has 18 points (7g, 11a) in 45 games this season. Lately he has been skating as the left wing on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, and is looking to snap a 21-game goal drought.

Goodrow, 23, has played one game with the Sharks this season, going scoreless on Jan. 24 at Winnipeg. Unless the Sharks recall someone else before their game with the Canucks, Goodrow will likely play his second game as the team is carrying just 12 healthy forwards as of Friday afternoon. Joonas Donskoi did not accompany the Sharks to Vancouver, and remains day-to-day with what the club is offically calling an upper body injury but appears to be a right shoulder.

Heed, likely the seventh defenseman in case of emergency, has also played one scoreless game on Jan. 11 at Calgary.

Dylan DeMelo made the trip, but is still not ready. The defenseman told CSN last week that he’s on schedule with an eight-week recovery from a broken right wrist that would put his return around early March.