Sharks-Blackhawks: What to watch for

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Sharks-Blackhawks: What to watch for

SAN JOSE Todd McLellan showed off his vocabulary when describing how he imagines the Chicago Blackhawks are feeling headed into tonights game at HP Pavilion.

Surly, grumpy and growly, to be specific, as Chicago brings a two-game losing streak into San Jose, including a 9-2 thrashing by the Edmonton Oliers on Saturday.

McLellan said after the morning skate that he doesnt have to remind his players to expect the Blackhawks to bust the proverbial hinges off the door at game time.

Theyve been through it before and we know how we would respond. Its as simple as that, said McLellan. We dont have to post anything or tell them. We expect the Blackhawks to be the top-notch team that they are.

You have to look at it as a good challenge for our club, said Patrick Marleau, who is coming off of his fourth career hat trick in Sundays win over the Avalanche. They are going to be desperate to get some wins, and to play the way theyre capable of. We have to combat that by playing our best game.

Home improvement: As good as the Sharks have been on the road (7-2-0), San Jose would like to improve on its home record. The Sharks are just 5-3-1 at HP Pavilion.

We want to put a good product in front of our fans, and theyre pretty loyal fans, said Torrey Mitchell.

The Sharks have scored the first goal at home in just two of their nine games at the Tank.

We have to sharpen up at home, especially our starts, said Mitchell. Getting the first goal sets us up for victories, so hopefully we can do that tonight.

The Sharks and Blackhawks are among the leagues best teams when taking a 1-0 lead. San Jose is a perfect 6-0, while Chicago is a nearly perfect 8-0-1.

We havent been as good as we could be at home, said Joe Pavelski, who leads the Sharks with 11 goals.
Clowe still adjusting? Like Marty Havlat (one assist in last six games), Sharks forward Ryane Clowe is in a bit of a goal-scoring slump. He hasnt found the back of the net since Nov. 3 against Pittsburgh, and may still be getting used to playing with Marleau and Mitchell.

Clowe, though, brings more to the ice than Havlat in terms of physical play and an ability to win puck battles. Not to mention, Marleau has five points in his last two games, and has likely benefited from Clowes ability to create space.

According to the coach, its only a matter of time before Clowe starts scoring again.

I think there is an adjustment phase, but I think thats a healthy thing for our team, the ability to play with different people and adjust, said McLellan. Clowie has done some really good things away from scoring, along the boards, sticking up for his teammates, managing the neutral zone right now. The goals and assists will come.

As for Mitchell, Marleau had nothing but good things to say about his new linemate, while at the same time helping to guide him.

Hes definitely got some skill that you have to be ready for. When he gets the puck down low hes hard to play against, said Marleau. I know that from practice, and I try to remind him that. He beats guys sometimes one-on-one and then he looks to take it to the net.

Im just trying to let him know how good he really is.

Center stage: The Sharks and Blackhawks are among the best teams when it comes to a 1-2 punch at center. San Jose, of course, has Marleau and Joe Thornton, while the Blackhawks have Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the middle of their top two lines.

Thats a different look that what Chicago has used in years past, as Kane and Toews have been on the same line for much of the previous few seasons.

It gives them two very dynamic centermen and each of them plays the game a little bit different one in straight lines and a little more physical and the other one a playmaker, said McLellan. It presents some problems, but we feel good about our centermen. Weve got Marleau and Thornton spread apart right now, so we have size and the ability to skate, so we think it will be a good match.

Odds and ends: Antti Niemi will oppose Corey Crawford in net. ... Jason Demers and Jim Vandermeer were the first two defensemen off of the ice for the Sharks, a good sign that they will make up the third defense pair tonight. The Blackhawks may get injured defenseman Brent Seabrook (lower body) back tonight, after he missed the last three games due to injury. Hes a game-time decision according to Joel Quenneville, while Michal Frolik (shoulder) is likely to play. Thornton has seven points in the last three games, as does Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Meier back with Sharks after working on his game in AHL

Meier back with Sharks after working on his game in AHL

ST. PAUL – On paper, Timo Meier’s production after he was reassigned to the AHL Barracuda on Feb. 16 was down. The former first-round pick had just six points (3g, 3a) in 14 games, and was scoreless in his last five, a far cry from what he was doing there earlier in the season and way off his numbers in juniors.

But at just 20 years old, Meier is still in the learning phase of his professional career. And as impressive as the Barracuda have been this season, they’re still playing in a developmental league, first and foremost. Meier got a chance to work on some of the aspects of his game he needed to work on.

“It was obviously hard going back,” said Meier, who has three goals and two assists in 28 games, before Tuesday’s game in Minnesota. “Sometimes you go back there and you try too much, but they told me to work on some things in my game, and I tried to do that.

“For me, going down there it was all about learning stuff on the ice, off the ice. … It’s my first year [in pro hockey], so as a young guy you want to learn and listen to the coaches, too. Just get better.”

Coach Pete DeBoer went into pretty good detail on what the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft needed to do with the Barracuda, and what he needs to show now that he’s back in the NHL.

“I think with a lot of big, talented young guys, they have to realize when they can make an extra play with the puck and when they have to chip it in,” DeBoer said. “They’re so used to dominating at the levels they’ve been at for so long, that [it’s] easier said than done. It’s habits you have to learn, and you don’t learn unless you’re doing them on a consistent basis.”

Meier’s shot selection, too, is something that needed some improvement, according to the coach. While the power winger might be generating plenty of shot attempts, no doubt pleasing the advanced stats crowd, there’s more to being an effective forward than running up numbers on the Excel spreadsheets.

“You don’t want to shoot [just] to shoot up here, or to just get shots on net. You’re not scoring on NHL goalies like you are on junior goalies from 30 or 40 feet out,” DeBoer said. “You’ve got to pick your spots. Sometimes you have to look for a better play than a shot.”

Meier said: “It’s a really tough league. As a young guy coming in, sometimes you’ve got to stay patient, too, try not [to do] too much. … Sometimes I tried [to do] a little too much.”

Meier has been in the Sharks’ lineup for each of the last two games. He started on the fourth line before getting bumped up to Tomas Hertl’s third line on Monday in Dallas, and returned to the fourth line with Chris Tierney and Micheal Haley for Tuesday’s tilt in Minnesota. He is scoreless with two shots on goal over those two games.

He could be a temporary fill in for Jannik Hansen, who remains out with an upper body injury but could potentially return before the end of the road trip this weekend. Or, perhaps Meier does enough to stick around for the stretch run and the playoffs. There would seem to be an opportunity to push someone else out of the lineup, as the Sharks’ depth scoring has been a season-long problem.

“It’s a great opportunity for me, getting that chance again later on in the season,” Meier said. “I want to put it all on the ice, leave it all out there and just make the best out of every shift I get. Play my game, play within my strengths, [do] the things that got me here, and I’m sure I’ll be successful like that.”

Three takeaways: Sharks' third line woes continue

Three takeaways: Sharks' third line woes continue

ST. PAUL – The losing streak endures, as the Sharks dropped their fourth straight, 3-2 in Minnesota on Tuesday night. A quick start from the home team, and an even quicker response after the Sharks tied it up late in the second keyed the Wild win. Let’s dig a little deeper, though, with our three takeaways…

1 – Wild come out flying

The Sharks’ general lack of panic after their latest loss, as we touched on in the recap, surely had something to do with the circumstances. Minnesota had an extra day of rest while the Sharks were on their second of a back-to-back, with travel. San Jose was also capping off a stretch of seven games in just 11 days (I believe we’ve mentioned here before just how monumentally foolish this year’s NHL schedule is). 

Frankly, the start was predictable. Minnesota was a ticked off team having lost five straight, and even though it had dropped is previous game in Winnipeg, 5-4, it erased a 4-0 deficit in that one only to lose it late. Surely that was a sign that the Wild were ready to break through in the win column.

Pete DeBoer said the Sharks “expected” an early push from Minnesota.

“They’ve been sitting here waiting, they’re desperate, they’re fresh, they’re healthy. We’re coming in on a back-to-back. We knew the first period would be tough. It wasn’t pretty, but we escaped only down 1-0 and I thought from that point on we started to fight back a little bit. Did some good things, just too little too late.”

The Sharks were competitive over the final two periods, finally getting their first goal in more than 138 minutes of game play to make it 1-1 (it was originally credited to David Schlemko, but has since been changed to Patrick Marleau). At that point, though, it was Minnesota’s turn to respond. It did, and that was the game.

2 – Third line woes

We touched on the Sharks’ lack of secondary scorers yesterday, and it was on full display against the Wild again Tuesday night as the third line of Tomas Hertl, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker failed to do anything productive. Hertl had one decent chance in the first period from the slot that Devan Dubnyk turned away, but was later too soft and too slow on Minnesota’s third goal, as Zach Parise outhustled and outmuscled him before dishing to Charlie Coyle.

Donskoi finished with two shots, and didn’t even get one off on a second period breakaway. Boedker had no shots, and just one attempt.

Hertl now has no points in his last 10 games, and Donskoi hasn’t found the scoresheet, either, in nine games since returning from an upper body injury.

Prior to Tuesday night’s game, DeBoer indicated it’s taking some time for both players to get up to speed after being out. Hertl, of course, missed two months with his latest right knee injury.

“You come back, there’s a little bit of adrenaline, you’re on a high, and the reality hits that you missed some time and the league is moving at a really fast pace,” DeBoer said. “Just got to play through it and keep battling.”

Hertl said: “I for sure expect [more] of myself. … I try to stay with my game, try and make plays, be strong on the puck, make my linemates better. I need to just keep working all over [in the] D-zone, O-zone, and even power play.”

3 – Dealing without Vlasic

Marc-Edouard Vlasic was the second Sharks player in two nights to be sidelined by a flu bug, so Schlemko was bumped up to replace him paired with Justin Braun, while Dylan DeMelo and Brenden Dillon comprised the third pair.

Schlemko had a nice game, even if he is no longer getting credit for his third goal of the season. He finished with one assist, a plus-one rating, three shot attempts and three blocks.

“You can’t really replace a guy like [Vlasic],” he said. “He’s one of the best defensive D in the league. Just trying to keep it simple. We switched up the partners and spread out the ice time pretty well. Not the start we wanted, but after the first I thought we played pretty well. Played hard.”

DeBoer said: “We've got a little bit of a flu going through. Tierney was out yesterday with it, [Vlasic] got it today. Hopefully, that’s the end of it.”