Sharks-Capitals: What to watch for

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Sharks-Capitals: What to watch for

SAN JOSE Now that NHL realignment has been postponed for at least a year, there are no guarantees that Alex Ovechkin will make an appearance here at HP Pavilion in the 2012-13 season.

The superstar Capitals forward is here tonight, though, and will try to help his team win in San Jose for the first time since 1993. Washington brings a four-game overall winning streak into the game, and Ovechkin has led the way with 11 points in his last seven games (7g, 4a), including four consecutive two-point efforts.

They have a number of superstars and you cant zero in on any on individual, although, hes the kingpin there, Todd McLellan said of Ovechkin on Saturday morning. Hes the guy that pulls the trigger and makes things happen.

The Sharks will likely try and get Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic out against Ovechkins line, which includes Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer as much as possible.

Its fun. I enjoy playing against the top guys. Ive said that before, Boyle said. He sees good matchups every night, so its nothing new for him. Hes playing real well right now so hopefully well get the job done defensively.

Ovechkins take: While the Sharks were busy talking about how dangerous Ovechkin is on the ice, the man himself knows that the Capitals have 10 losses and one tie since their last win at HP Pavilion, and have lost 14 of 15 overall since the start of the 1999-2000 season.

Its always nice to have a winning streak and you always want to continue what youre doing. But, its a hard building for us to play in and win here, in I dont know how many years, Ovechkin said. We just have to not think about it and play a little better than we played a couple years ago.

In seven career games against the Sharks, Ovechkin has four goals and two assists.

What do the Caps need to do to beat the Sharks?

We dont play a lot against these guys so we just have to play our game and play most of the time in their zone and not ours, because they have pretty good skilled guys and use our mistakes to get chances," Ovechkin said.

Mitchells return: Sharks forward Torrey Mitchell appears set to return tonight after a one-game absence. Mitchell was healthy-scratched on Thursday night in the Sharks 2-1 win over Columbus.

At Saturdays morning skate, he was on the wing with Michal Handzus and Jamie McGinn. McLellan explained what went down with the 26-year-old forward.

I talked to Torrey, and he gave me all the answers that I needed. He explained to me what his strengths were as a player and what his assets were that he thought he needed to bring to the table on a nightly basis, said the coach. It was a pretty simple conversation; I didnt even need to say anything. You have to give him credit for very good self-evaluation. Sometimes players dont see it like that.

The Sharks fourth line will likely be Brad Winchester, Andrew Desjardins and Tommy Wingels, making Andrew Murray the odd man out.

Niemi vs. Vokoun: After watching from the bench for the first time in more than a month, Antti Niemi will return tonight to face the Capitals. Thomas Greiss got the start and the win against Columbus on Thursday, after Niemi had started the previous 13 games.

In three games against Washington, Niemi is a solid 2-0-1 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.

While those numbers sound pretty darn good, Washington expected starter Tomas Vokouns run against the Sharks is even more impressive. In his last 11 starts against San Jose, Vokoun is 10-0-1 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .932 save percentage and one shutout. His last regulation loss against the Sharks came on Dec. 23, 2003 when he was still with the Nashville Predators.

Odds and ends: Washington forward Nicklas Backstrom is out with an injury. After tonight, 17 of the Sharks next 23 games are on the road. The Capitals have a 14 goal differential in the third period. Washington has nine 4-on-4 goals, the most in the NHL. Capitals defenseman John Carlson leads NHL defensemen with 44 giveaways. Brent Burns is second with 43. ... San Jose visits Washington on Feb. 13.

Brent Burns working through offensive dry spell

Brent Burns working through offensive dry spell

DALLAS – Brent Burns hasn’t altered his routine, despite his name not showing up on the scoresheet for a little while.

“It’s not like I stopped eating the same meal or I’m not sleeping anymore,” Burns said on Thursday, after a rare Sharks road practice. “It’s the same. I do the same thing every game.”

What he hasn’t been doing every game, like he seemed to be for the first three-quarters of the season, is racking up points. The Norris Trophy frontrunner hasn’t potted a goal in his last 14 games, and is scoreless in his last seven. He still leads the Sharks with 70 points, and has four more points than Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson for the most among NHL defensemen, but there’s no denying he’s hit a cold streak. Previously, he hadn't gone more than three games without a point.

He’s not the only one, of course, as the Sharks have managed just four goals in their last four games, all regulation losses. But when a team is struggling to put the puck in the net, it’s often the top guys that have to lead the resurgence. And no one has been better or more important to the Sharks this season than the 32-year-old blueliner.

Could it be that as Burns goes, so do the Sharks? The team is 33-9-3 when Burns finds the scoresheet, and just 9-15-4 when he doesn't.

Coach Pete DeBoer doesn’t think so, though, pointing to the Sharks putting up plenty of offense at the start of Burns’ dry spell, including nine combined goals in wins over Dallas and Buffalo last week.

“I don’t think we only score when Brent Burns is on. I think we’re deeper than that. I think we’ve shown that,” DeBoer said. “He hasn’t scored in awhile, and up until a few games ago we were putting up some significant goals and numbers and offense. 

“I think even the nights he’s not scoring, we’ve generated lots of chances. Other than the St. Louis game (a 4-1 loss on March 16), the last three games we’ve lost, we’ve generated enough chances that on a lot of nights that’s three or four goals. But, that’s not just [on] Burnzie…It’s some other guys bearing down and sticking it in the net. It will come.”

Joe Thornton believes that the forwards can also do more to help Burns, who has become the team’s most valuable offensive weapon with his ability to get shots or passes through from a distance with velocity and precision like few players in the NHL can.

“He’s obviously a dominant player, and I think we just need to help him out,” Thornton said. “It shouldn’t always be on one guy, I think we’ve got to give him better opportunities to put him in better spots. It shouldn’t all lay on his shoulders. We’re not doing a good enough job to kind of work away from him, and getting him opportunities.”

Burns, of course, is a guy that wears his heart on his sleeve. During practice, his hooting and hollering can typically be heard echoing throughout the rink. Simply put, no one has more fun than this guy.

So, is the cold streak weighing on him? Maybe a little bit.

“I think it weighs on him, for sure,” DeBoer said. “We have good dialogue, there’s a lot of communication, especially with him and [assistant coach Bob Boughner]. And also, him and his teammates. The guys know how much responsibility he takes on himself – sometimes too much. Guys are good with that, they recognize that.”

Thornton said: “When you’re a d-man and you get so many goals and so many assists, you kind of expect it’s going to happen every night, but that’s just not the reality of it. He’s doing something that hardly [any] d-men do in the history of the game. … He’s capable of just getting out of that quick, and pouring it on like he has in the first 65 games of the year.”

For now, Burns is taking every new day and new game as it comes, and said: “It’s no different if you’ve won four in a row and you’ve got 10 points.”

And if he did have 10 points in his last four games?

“You want 12. If you’ve got zero, you want one. Then 12,” he said.

Notes: Injured Sharks Hansen, Karlsson return to practice

Notes: Injured Sharks Hansen, Karlsson return to practice

DALLAS – Injured Sharks forwards Jannik Hansen and Melker Karlsson both returned to the ice for Thursday’s practice in Dallas, in what Pete DeBoer called “a good first step” in their recoveries.

The coach left open the possibility that one or both could play against the Stars on Friday night, even though neither was skating on a set line for practice.

“We’ll have to wait and see how they feel [Friday] morning and what the recovery is,” DeBoer said. “I’m not prepared to say they’re in tomorrow, but it’s a good sign they’re on the ice and participated.”

Hansen has been out for the past two games since getting a stick in the head from defenseman Brandon Montour on Saturday against Anaheim. 

“Took a couple days [off] to make sure everything was aright,” Hansen said. “Getting better, back on the ice today.”

Officially, it’s an upper body injury. When pressed if it was a concussion issue, Hansen said: “I don’t know. It’s tough to say to begin with, but obviously you do all the precautionary things that [are] involved now.”

Although he has just one assist in his first six games with the Sharks, Hansen seemed to spark the Sharks’ top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, as the line generated one even strength goal in each of the first four games Hansen played.

Karlsson has missed the last six games with a lower body injury. He has 19 points (9g, 10a) in 60 games with a plus-nine rating.

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The lines remained the same for Thursday’s practice. Patrick Marleau was with Thornton and Pavelski; Logan Couture centered Joel Ward and Mikkel Boedker; Tomas Hertl was between Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen, while the fourth line sweaters were worn by Chris Tierney, Micheal Haley, Timo Meier and Danny O’Regan.

San Jose stayed over in St. Paul on Tuesday night and flew to Dallas on Wednesday morning on their day off.

The Wild game, a 3-2 loss, was the Sharks’ fourth straight. They’ve generated just four goals over that span.

That game also capped off a stretch of seven games in 11 days for the Sharks, who now have just a two-point lead on Anaheim for first place in the Pacific Division – a lead that was nine points before the losing streak began.

Was the day off good?

“Yeah. We’ve been kind of struggling scoring goals, so just to kind of relax yesterday and then kind of get back and refocus today,” Thornton said. “But sometimes you just need a little time away from the rink. I think yesterday was needed.”

DeBoer said: “I think our group is pretty mature. I don’t think we’re overeating to the situation. No one’s happy we’ve lost a few, but we also know that we’ve done enough good things that we could have won two or three of those games. We’ve just got to stick with it, clean up a couple things, and score some goals.”

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Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic skated after missing Tuesday’s game with the flu. Tierney missed Monday’s game in Dallas, also due to illness.

Is that all gone now?

“Knock on wood. Nothing today. Hope so,” DeBoer said.