Sharks-Blues: What to watch for

690168.jpg

Sharks-Blues: What to watch for

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Get prepared for the Sharks and Blues with Sharks Pregame Live, airing at 7 p.m. The puck drops at 7:30 and stick around for Sharks Postgame Live immediately following the final horn -- all on Comcast SportsNet California.

SAN JOSE The St. Louis Blues will try for a season sweep of the Sharks when the teams meet for the fourth and final time tonight at HP Pavilion.

San Jose is coming off of a pair of 1-0 games, beating the Flyers on Tuesday but losing to Buffalo on Thursday. Goals will likely be at a premium vs. the Blues, too, as St. Louis allows just 1.91 goals-per-game, leading the league. The Blues were also shut out on Thursday, 2-0 in Vancouver.

The Sharks are eighth in GAA at 2.49, improving drastically in the last two games from their horrible road trip in which they allowed 35 goals over nine games.

They dont give up a lot of goals or a lot of chances. Well have to make ourselves work for our chances tonight, thats for sure, Ryane Clowe said.

Assistant coach Jay Woodcroft, who, with Matt Shaw, may have to fill in again for an injured Todd McLellan tonight, said: They play a heavy, mans type of game. Theyre going to make you earn everything, and they dont give you anything for free.

The Sharks have been shut out in their last two games against the Blues, both in St. Louis, 1-0 on Dec. 10 and 3-0 on Feb. 12 in the first game of the road trip.

The Sharks will almost certainly be getting a boost to their lineup. Logan Couture, who leads the Sharks with 27 goals, is set to return from an apparent knee injury suffered last Sunday in Minnesota. The 22-year-old missed his first two games of the season, but was back on the ice for Saturdays morning skate.

Theyre a tough team to play, said Couture of St. Louis. They come hard on the forecheck. Great defensive team, havent given up many goals all year. To beat them you have to play one of the best games weve played all year. Hopefully, we can step up tonight.

Defenseman Douglas Murray may also return. Murray, who has missed the last eight games with a fractured Adams apple, said my guess is Ill be playing pretty soon, when asked if hes ready.

RELATED: Couture set to return, Murray possible
Special teams play: Of the four goals the Sharks surrendered in their last two losses to the Blues, three of them came while they were down two men.

Conversely, the Sharks are a combined 0-for-10 on the power play. Its a facet of their game that will play a huge role against the stingy Blues.

All the games have come down to burying your scoring chances when theyre available. We think we can do a better job in the special teams area, Woodcroft said. Weve given up three five-on-three goals against them, so were going to have to check smart and stay out of the box.

The Sharks power play had been red hot from late-January through the recently completed road tip. In the last two games, though, it is a combined 0-for-3 and failed to score in consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 17-19.

San Jose is still fourth in the league with a 21.0 percent success rate.

Niemi vs. Halak: Antti Niemi has returned to form in the last two games, allowing just one goal in the last two starts after he was as bad as anyone on the nine-game road trip.

In eight career games against St. Louis, Niemi is 4-4-0 with a 2.53 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. In his last 17 starts, Niemi is 6-9-1 with 2.77 GAA and .902 SP. Hes allowed four-plus goals six times, but also has three shutouts.

For the Blues, Jaroslav Halak gets the call. He made 25 saves in a shutout performance against the Sharks in St. Louis on Feb. 12. In six career appearances against the Sharks, hes 3-2-0 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .924 save percentage.

Halak and teammate Brian Elliott are tied for third in the league with six shutouts apiece.

Hitch hockey: The Blues are 34-11-7 under Ken Hitchcock since the head coach took over 52 games ago. They trail Detroit by just two points for the lead in the Central Division, and are challenging for the top seed in the Western Conference.

Former Sharks forward Scott Nichol was asked how the Blues have been able to achieve such success after missing the playoffs last year.

I think we have big forwards that protect the puck real well, Nichol said. We can skate, and we have a couple offensive defensemen on our team that can move the puck real well, same as these guys. Its a really similar team. I think in the Western Conference, you have to be like that.

For the scuffling Sharks, tonight is an opportunity to remind themselves they can play with the big boys in the their conference.

Theyve been in the hottest team in the league since Hitch took over there, Clowe said. We need a game like that tonight to get us back on track. Just a sound game against a real good team. Its going to be a great test and we all know that. Weve got to pass that test.

If we can create some chances, well prove to ourselves that were a dominant team, too."

Odds and ends: St. Louis had its four-game winning streak snapped on Thursday. Brian Elliott has lost three straight, but has given up just seven goals in that span. The Sharks have just 15 goals in their last eight games (2-6-0). Antti Niemi has stopped 44 of 45 shots in the last two games. The Blues still are missing Alexander Steen (concussion), Matt D'Agostini (concussion), Kris Russell (concussion), and Jamie Langenbrunner (broken foot).

In push for playoffs, LA Kings acquire goalie Bishop from Tampa Bay

In push for playoffs, LA Kings acquire goalie Bishop from Tampa Bay

The Los Angeles Kings have acquired goaltender Ben Bishop in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Los Angeles sent Peter Budaj, defensive prospect Erik Cernak, a 2017 seventh-round pick and a conditional pick to Tampa Bay for Bishop and a 2017 fifth-round pick.

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman announced the trade Sunday night, less than four days before the trade deadline.

Bishop, a pending unrestricted free agent, helped the Lightning reach the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Kings now have Bishop and 2012 and 2014 Cup winner Jonathan Quick, who returned Saturday from a long-term lower-body injury that had sidelined him since October.

The 6-foot-7 Bishop, 30, is 16-12-3 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.

Three takeaways: Sharks stand up for Karlsson; avoiding the mumps

Three takeaways: Sharks stand up for Karlsson; avoiding the mumps

VANCOUVER – It was a successful first game coming out of the bye week for the Sharks, as they won going away against the Canucks at Rogers Arena on Saturday, 4-1. Here are our three takeaways from the evening in British Columbia…

1 – Slow start, strong finish

The league-wide trend of starting slow coming out of the NHL’s newly instituted bye week was on display in the first period, as the Sharks and Canucks played one of the uglier frames of NHL hockey you’ll ever see. San Jose was on its heels early, surrendering the first six shots of the game and looking particularly confused. They didn’t register a single hit in the period, either, which is hard to do.

The Sharks were lucky that Vancouver wasn’t much better, and that Martin Jones – whose performance we focused on in primary the game recap – was looking sharp and well rested.

The message after the scoreless first period, according to coach Pete DeBoer, was just to “try and get better.” That’s what happened.

“We knew it would be a little messy, and it was,” DeBoer said. “Jonesy thankfully was our best player, and gave us a chance to get our legs under us. I thought as the game wore on we got better and better. It wasn’t a pretty win, by any means.”

Chris Tierney said: “After the first 10 minutes [we] started to feel good and then kind of felt back to normal in the second there. It definitely took a little bit. Joner bailed us out in the beginning a couple times. I thought we started to get going in the second and third.”

2 – Standing up for Karlsson

Melker Karlsson was lucky to return in the third period after he took a heavy hit from Joseph Labate. Karlsson had to be helped to the dressing room after the blow, when his head violently snapped back as Labate ran him into the boards in front of the bench.

Micheal Haley pounced on Labate immediately after the incident, earning a two-minute minor that the team was probably happy to kill off. Labate, to his credit, answered the bell in the third period when he was challenged by and fought Brenden Dillon. The Sharks will face the Canucks three more times this season, including on Thursday, so a response to the hit was particularly necessary even if it was clean.

“That sends a good message to the team that everybody has each other’s back,” Mikkel Boedker said of Haley and Dillon’s efforts. “Those guys are real standup guys, and they’ve done it so many times. Every time they do it, it means something special to all of us.”

DeBoer said: “That’s a huge part of our team and our team identity. We’ve got a group that you’re not going to be able to push to of games, and I think we’ve shown that over the last two years here. You don’t even have to say anything, that’s just automatic.”

3 – Avoiding the mumps

Some eyebrows were raised in the press box midway through the game when the Canucks tweeted that defenseman Luca Sbisa would not return with the stomach flu. That’s one of the early warning signs of the mumps, meaning Sbisa could have exposed some Sharks to the virus, which is making its way through the Vancouver dressing room.

“What are you going to do? We’ve just got to cross our fingers and get outta here and hope that he didn’t rub up against anybody,” DeBoer said.

The Sharks coach said after the game that he thought “most of our guys” have had vaccinations, but “I believe there’s a couple that haven’t.”

After the virus invaded several NHL dressing rooms two seasons ago, the Sharks’ training staff will likely be on the lookout for symptoms when the team reconvenes on Monday. Hopefully, the outbreak will begin and end in Vancouver this time.

“Definitely, you want to make sure that you stay away from all that stuff,” Boedker said.