In the Crease: Sharks look to keep rolling vs. Panthers

In the Crease: Sharks look to keep rolling vs. Panthers
March 18, 2014, 9:30 am
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Joe Thornton scored one of the Sharks' three goals in a shutout win over the Panthers back on Jan. 16. (USATSI)

Programming note: Sharks-Panthers coverage gets underway on Comcast SportsNet California at 7:00 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live

Where they stand
Sharks: 45-17-7, 97 points, 2nd Pacific Division, 3rd Western Conference
Panthers: 25-35-8, 58 points, 7th Atlantic Division, 15th Eastern Conference

The latest

Sharks: The Sharks beat the New York Rangers on Sunday, 1-0, behind a stellar 41-save shutout by Antti Niemi. Logan Couture had the only goal on a shorthanded partial breakaway. San Jose swept a three-game road trip, has won six straight, and is 10-1-1 in its last 12. A three-game homestand starts tonight, and continues with Anaheim on Thursday and Washington on Saturday.

Panthers: Florida, now well out of the playoff race, is coming off of a 4-3 shootout loss to Vancouver at home on Sunday despite two goals from Jimmy Hayes. The Panthers open a four-game road trip tonight, with stops in Phoenix, Los Angeles and Anaheim. Since returning to Florida, goalie Roberto Luongo is 2-2-1 with a 2.57 GAA and .916 SP.

Keep an eye on…

Sharks: Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The Sharks’ number one defenseman is now tied for third in the NHL with a +30 rating, and has been a minus player just once in his last 12 games (he’s a +15 over that span). He’s also managing some offense, with six points (1g, 5a) in his last 11 games.

Panthers: Scottie Upshall. The 11-year forward is Florida’s leading scorer with 33 points, including eight in the last 12 games (4g, 4a). Upshall scored the game-winner for Florida on Friday night against the Devils in a 5-3 win, and has seven points (3g, 4a) in 18 career games vs. San Jose.

Vitals

Sharks
Goals per game: 2.96 (7th)
Goals-against per game: 2.32 (4th)
Power play: 15.9 percent (23rd)
Penalty kill: 84.7 percent (6th)

Panthers
Goals per game: 2.38 (25th)
Goals-against per game: 3.16 (27th)
Power play: 10.7 percent (30th)
Penalty kill: 75.1 percent (30th)

Probable lines

Sharks
Joe Pavelski – Joe Thornton – Brent Burns
Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – Matt Nieto
Marty Havlat – James Sheppard – Tommy Wingels
Adam Burish – Andrew Desjardins – Tyler Kennedy

Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Jason Demers
Scott Hannan – Justin Braun
Matt Irwin – Dan Boyle

Antti Niemi (confirmed starter)
Alex Stalock

Panthers
Scottie Upshall – Nick Bjugstad – Brad Boyes
Joey Crabb – Vincent Trocheck – Tomas Fleischmann
Jimmy Hayes – Brandon Pirri – Quinton Howden
Krys Barch – Scott Gomez – Garrett Wilson

Brian Campbell – Tom Gilbert
Ed Jovanovski - Dmitry Kulikov
Colby Robak – Dylan Olsen

Roberto Luongo (confirmed starter)
Dan Ellis

Injuries/Scratches

Sharks: Tomas Hertl (right knee surgery), Brad Stuart (upper body) and Raffi Torres (right knee) are out.

Panthers: Tomas Kopecky (concussion), Aleksander Barkov (sprained knee), Erik Gudbranson (sprained knee), Jesse Winchester (lower body) Alex Petrovic (upper body) and Jonathan Huberdeau (upper body) are out. Sean Bergenheim (lower body) is doubtful. 

Season/All-Time series

Alex Stalock pitched a 24-save shutout on Jan. 16, leading the Sharks to a 3-0 win in Florida. Joe Thornton, Matt Nieto and Joe Pavelski scored goals.

The Sharks are 10-7-1 against Florida all-time, with seven ties.

Tonight is the final game of 12 straight for the Sharks against Eastern Conference clubs. Saturday's meeting with the Capitals will be their final non-Conference game of the season.

Quoteable

“I think the break came at a great time for me, have a little time off of hockey and not playing. Maybe not going to practice that much later, either.” – Antti Niemi

Burning question

Do you like the new NHL schedule format that features two games against each of the Eastern Conference teams, or would you like to see more games against the Western Conference?

Leave your answer in the comments section below.

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