Sharks-Blue Jackets: What to watch for

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Sharks-Blue Jackets: What to watch for

PROGRAMMINGALERT: Tune into Sharks Pregame Live on CSNBay Area at 3:30 p.m. and Sharks Postgame Live immediately after thegame.

COLUMBUS The Blue Jackets may be mired in last place with no hope for the postseason, but after the Sharks beat them in a hard fought game earlier this month, San Jose knows it cant take Columbus lightly.

Especially after a coaching change may have given the Blue Jackets some much needed energy.

It was pretty chippy and a physical game, said Michal Handzus of the Sharks 2-1 win on Jan. 5 at HP Pavilion. Were going to expect it to be even more physical because they play at home, and obviously they played last night and they won, so their confidence is going to be high. I think theyre going to come out flying.

The Blue Jackets beat the Coyotes on Friday night here at Nationwide Arena, 4-3.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan was asked if hes noticed any difference in the Blue Jackets game since Todd Richards took over on Monday for the fired Scott Arniel.

They looked like a lot of teams do when a coach is relieved of his duties. They looked a little bit energized and a little bit refreshed, McLellan said. Thats a common characteristic of a team that happens to.

I equate it to a young player getting called up. You can get that from them for the first five or six games, at games seven through 10, are they still energized and doing what they need to do? Were in that early phase against this team tonight, and well have our hands full because of it.

Greiss starts: Thomas Greiss wont have to wait nearly as long between starts this time, as hell spell Antti Niemi tonight once again against Columbus. Greiss made 23 saves in the Sharks win over the Blue Jackets less than 10 days ago.

Its pretty nice. Im excited to play again, he simply said on Saturday morning.

As for that last game against the Blue Jackets?

They had a couple good chances at the start and then we shut it down I think, and played very well, he said.

Niemi had started 13 straight games before January 5 against Columbus. McLellan said this morning that Greiss previous strong effort against the Blue Jackets, combined with a game against the high-flying Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, factored into his decision.

Curtis Sanford is expected to start for the Blue Jackets. He made 37 saves against San Jose in the loss on Jan. 5.

Improving PK: Its been a sore spot for the Sharks most of the season, but after killing off both Winnipeg power plays in the 2-0 victory there on Thursday, San Jose is 28-for-32 in the last 11 games (87.5 percent).

Handzus, a key penalty killer, was asked if that unit is gaining confidence.

Its been getting better. Weve been killing them, and I think with the structure, we play as a unit of four, he said. Its always like that when you get a couple good kills and dont give up the chances. The confidence goes up. We have to keep going, emphasize what were doing right, keep it in mind and going the same way.

Should the recent success be attributed to changes in the system, personnel or execution?

All three, I believe, MeLellan said. Systematic changes, personnel, somewhat who we use but the rotation of them and who theyre partnered with. A stronger confidence in it. The goaltending has been better in that situation, as well. Were happy where were at there and going to continue to try and improve.
Shooting stars: We touched on this a bit yesterday, but the Sharks are on a notable run when it comes to shots on goal. They have 35 or more in 11 straight games, the longest such streak of its kind in the NHL since the 1983-84 season.

San Jose leads the league with an even 35.0 shots per game. McLellan was asked about his philosophy in that department after todays morning skate.

I believe that you break defenses down by shooting the puck, he said. Players have to turn and go back to their net, they get drawn out of position, and you dont often score on the first one but its the opportunity on the second or third. Volume is very important, and quality is very important.

When youre winning the majority of your faceoffs, you tend to get a shot on goal off of it. We saw that in Winnipeg the other night. Its all intertwined. Just about everybody has agreed to it and taken their shot totals up.

Bottom six: McLellan was unhappy with his bottom six forwards after the 5-4 shootout loss to Minnesota to start the trip, but as much as he was ticked off after that game, he was just as pleased after the game in Winnipeg.

Torrey Mitchell knows the effort that his line, and the fourth line, gave in Winnipeg will have to be duplicated on a nightly basis.

McLellan met with us, the bottom six forwards, before the Winnipeg game. It wasnt about scoring goals, it was about doing the little things, Mitchell said. Finishing your checks, trying to create momentum for the top two lines, draw penalties and obviously penalty kill. We did those things, and those little details really well, and it was a really complete game that way.
Odds and ends: Tonight marks the midway point of the regular season for the Sharks. The Blue Jackets are without Radek Martinek, Jeff Carter, Mark Letestu, Kristian Huselius, James Wisniewski and R.J. Umberger. The Sharks are 5-0-1 in their last six games. Rick Nash has three goals in the last three games.

Sharks' Vlasic out of the lineup again

Sharks' Vlasic out of the lineup again

NASHVILLE – Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic is out of the lineup again.

The defenseman, who didn’t play on Tuesday in Minnesota with the flu and took just one shift in the third period on Friday in Dallas, was scratched for Saturday’s road trip finale against the Predators. The team stated Saturday’s absence was due to his being sick, although it should be noted he was spotted leaving the dressing room on Friday in Dallas not walking completely right.

The Sharks are 2-3-1 in games Vlasic missed this season entering Saturday night. 

Chris Tierney was also scratched, and is day-to-day with an upper body injury. Is was just the second game he has missed this season.

Dylan DeMelo drew into the lineup for Vlasic, while Timo Meier got back in on the fourth line with Micheal Haley and Marcus Sorensen.

Melker Karlsson (lower body) remains out.

NHL Gameday: Sharks face Preds, look to rebound from 'crap' performance

NHL Gameday: Sharks face Preds, look to rebound from 'crap' performance

Programming note – Sharks-Predators coverage starts today at 4:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 42-25-7, 91 points, 1st Pacific Division
Predators: 37-25-11, 85 points, 4th Central Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***The freefalling Sharks will again try to put an end to their losing streak in their only visit to Nashville tonight. Friday night’s unsightly 6-1 loss in Dallas, their fifth straight in regulation, was surely their worst game of the season. Their typically strong defensive game handed the Stars all kinds of opportunities that they cashed in on.

“Uncharacteristic missed coverage," Pete DeBoer said of the Stars' third goal in which Jamie Benn was left uncovered, "but [I] think that you could say that about six of the goals – breakaways, two-on-ones. Just, crap. Not very good.”

Despite having a nine-point lead on the division on the morning of March 15, the Sharks are now tied in points with Anaheim (San Jose owns the tiebreaker, so is still officially in first place). The Ducks are idle Saturday, but Edmonton, two points back, is hosting putrid Colorado.

Nashville is 5-1-0 in its last six games, and 6-1-0 in its last seven at home.

***The Sharks would officially clinch a spot in the playoffs with a regulation/OT win, combined with a Kings regulation loss to the Rangers on Saturday night.

***The Sharks have managed just five goals over their five regulation losses. Two of those scores have come on the power play, including one on a five-on-three; Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s goal against St. Louis deflected in off of a Blues player, and one of Patrick Marleau’s two markers in Minnesota on Tuesday came in large part to a miscommunication between Devan Dubnyk and Ryan Suter.

They are simply not generating anything lately.

“Some teams are doing a good job of taking some of our plays away, but it’s on us as players,” Joe Pavelski said. “You’ve got to win some battles, you've got to create some energy, some speed throughout the team. It’s hasn’t been one guy. It’s been all of us. We’re in this together. We’ll change it as a group."

***The Sharks will make some lineup changes for the game. DeBoer said there were "some game time decisions," including Vlasic, who played just one shift in the third period on Friday. Timo Meier and Melker Karlsson could draw in up front.

The Sharks are 2-3-1 in the six games Vlasic has missed this season, including Tuesday in Minnesota when he was out with the flu. Just one of the two wins came in regulation (Jan. 7 against Detroit).

If he’s out, Dylan DeMelo will presumably play on the third pair.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Tomas Hertl. It didn’t take long for Hertl to be bumped up to the Joe Thornton line after Friday’s game started to go sour. In the first period, Hertl looked like one of the few Sharks players actually performing decently, and he finished with a team-high four shots on goal. He remains without a point in his last 11 games, though.

Predators: James Neal. The Predators forward has goals in each of his two games against the Sharks this season, and is third on the Predators with 21 overall. After scoring in three straight games from March 11-16, Neal hasn’t found the scoresheet in his last three.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Jannik Hansen – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – Mikkel Boedker
Marcus Sorensen – Tomas Hertl – Joel Ward
Timo Meier – Chris Tierney – Joonas Donskoi

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon – Justin Braun
David Schlemko – Dylan DeMelo

Martin Jones (likely starter)
Aaron Dell

Predators
Filip Forsberg – Ryan Johansen – Viktor Arvidsson
Kevin Fiala – Calle Jarnkrok – James Neal
Colin Wilson – Colton Sissons – Craig Smith
Cody McLeod – Vern Fiddler – Austin Watson

Romas Josi – Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm – P.K. Subban
Matt Irwin – Yannick Weber

Pekka Rinne
Jusse Saros

INJURIES

Sharks: Marc-Edouard Vlasic (possible lower body) and Melker Karlsson (lower body) are questionable.

Predators: Mike Fisher (lower body) is questionable.

QUOTEABLE

"The nice thing about this is we get to go back at it again tomorrow. There’s going to be no excuse for not playing hard tomorrow.” – Brenden Dillon, after Friday night’s loss in Dallas