Sharks-Colorado: What to watch for

577062.jpg

Sharks-Colorado: What to watch for

DENVER Everyone needs a day off sometimes, and the Sharks are no different. After arriving in Denver late Sunday night following the 3-2 overtime loss to Chicago, the Sharks regulars had a complete day off on Monday to regroup, refocus and re-energize before tonights game against Colorado.

Everyone who was asked about the down time on Tuesday morning after the teams skate agreed it was much needed.

It was nice to just stay in the hotel and walk around the mall, and just get away from the rink and the grind. Hopefully, it will do us some good tonight, said Joe Thornton.

We had three games in four nights, and its tough on your body, especially back-to-backs against teams like St. Louis and Chicago, both hard forechecking teams, said Logan Couture. It was a tough way to end in Chicago, but I thought we played well for two periods. We have to rebound tonight. We need two points.

Coach Todd McLellan pointed out that it had been weeks since the Sharks had a complete day off from anything having to do with hockey. The team was supposed to be off last Sunday, but a bad 5-3 loss to Florida the night before resulted in an intense 50-minute skate instead.

In hindsight, McLellan seemed to second-guess that decision.

Sometimes, you lose sight of where your team might be. When youre not winning you want to bring them to the rink and work them more, and practice more, he said. Sometimes youre grumpy and you skate them maybe a little extra, and dont realize where they are physically.

I ran into a couple of them walking around in the street yesterday, and it was about 11:00 or 11:30 in the morning and a lot of them were just crawling out of bed. Maybe that day will be good for us, both mentally and physically.

Jamie McGinn, who has four goals in the last six games, said: Guys got a lot of rest, and were ready to go today.

Sticking with Niemi: McLellan wouldnt have shocked anyone if he decided to start Thomas Greiss tonight rather than Antti Niemi. After all, Greiss hasnt played since last Saturdays 5-3 loss to Florida, and won here at the Pepsi Center on Nov. 20 with 37 saves.

That wont be the case, though, as Niemi (11-6-2, 2.30 GAA, .920 SP) will make his fifth start in eight days.

Nemo had a good day of rest yesterday. We expect him to play, and play well, said McLellan.

The Sharks also expect the same lineup forward and defense-wise as played in Chicago, meaning Matt Irwin will have to wait at least one more game to make his NHL debut. Douglas Murray (right hand) and Jim Vandermeer (upper body) remain out, as well.

Semyon Varlamov (9-12-1, 3.07 GAA, .898 SP) will start for Colorado.

More O, same D: Its the ultimate challenge in the NHL how do you generate offense while maintaining responsibility in the defensive zone?

The Sharks have been outstanding in their own zone since that loss against Florida, in which some brutal turnovers led to Panthers goals. Taking a look at the stretch since then, San Jose gave up just 21 shots to Minnesota, 20 to Dallas and 19 to St. Louis.

Before the late charge by the Blackhawks resulted in 34 shots against on Saturday, aided by some exhausted Sharks players, San Jose held a loaded Chicago offense to just 13 shots through two periods.

How do you keep that defensive play strong, while trying to get more goals?

Its a fine line, said Thornton. We feel comfortable in the one-goal games, but wed like to try to get a little bit more offense without giving too much on the back side. Its a fine line, but hopefully we can start scoring some more goals here.

Thats just it, you have to play well in your own end to create offense in this league, said Couture. If you break out clean and you dont spend any time in your own end, youre going to get chances in the other end.

Of course, it doesnt help that some of the Sharks' big offensive weapons have collectively gone cold. Over the last nine games, Joe Pavelski has just two points (1g, 1a); Marty Havlat just three assists; Partick Marleau one goal; and Thornton three assists.

You always have players that struggle, but to have a number of them all at the same time, its not a healthy thing for our team, said McLellan.

Still, he doesnt want it to come at the expense of solid team defense.

You need those top guys to score, but you dont want them to do it at the risk of cheating or anything defensively, said the coach. Our defensive game hasnt been bad. We want to keep that and find a way to get some offensive rewards, eventually.

Power play improvement: The Sharks had just two power plays against Chicago, and although they didnt score on either one, looked better and more organized.

The reason?

Our intent up top was to shoot first and dish later, which was a huge difference, said McLellan. We got into the zone a lot easier and we got pucks back. We looked dangerous, and we reviewed it this morning in our power play meeting, we looked how were supposed to look.

Still, the Sharks are just 1-for-25 in their past eight games. Colorado isnt much better, bringing a 1-for-23 cold streak in their last seven games into tonight.

Both clubs are also near the bottom of the penalty killing rankings. Colorado is 25th in the NHL (79.3 percent) while the Sharks are 28th (75.3 percent).
Odds and ends: The Sharks won 4-1 at the Pepsi Center on Nov. 20, behind a Patrick Marleau hat trick. Tonights game is on Versus at 6 p.m. PST.

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.

* * *

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.”

* * *

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.