Programming note: Canadiens-Sharks coverage starts Saturday at 6:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
SAN JOSE – It’s an odd quirk in the schedule, and something that has never happened before in Sharks franchise history.
On Saturday at home, the Sharks will play their seventh straight game against an Eastern Conference opponent. They’re now past the midway point of 12 straight against teams from the East, a run that will conclude on March 18 against Florida.
So far, San Jose is 4-1-1 in its first six, including a win against Columbus to start the stretch on Feb. 7 in the final game before the Olympic break. The Sharks are 16-6-3 against Eastern Conference foes this season.
“I’m actually glad they come in a grouping like they are right now,” said Todd McLellan, who said that it’s easier to scout their upcoming opponents because they can watch recent tape of the teams playing one another. “We can kill two birds with one stone there.”
“Overall, it doesn’t change much. We’re still focused on what we do and how we want to do it. It forces the coaches to work a little bit harder to find tendencies and trends within Eastern Conference teams, but other than that, not much changes.”
The Sharks haven’t played Montreal since Oct. 26 at the Bell Centre, a 2-0 win. When Toronto visits Tuesday, it will be the first game between the teams since early December.
As McLellan suggested, the coaching staff has to give its team a little more information than usual in the pregame meetings.
“We haven’t seen, especially [Montreal], since early on in the season,” Joe Thornton said. “We’re really not familiar with them so they’ll have to do a good job of refreshing our minds with their lineup, and things like that. Once you get out there, it’s hockey, but you’ve got to know their tendencies and things like that.”
Matt Irwin said: “They do a good job preparing us no matter who we’re playing, but for these guys that we don’t see too often, there might be a couple extra clips here or there on penalty kill, power play, or whatever it may be. … They get a lot more information and direct it towards us. It might be a little bit more, but you prepare the same way.”
Prior to this season, the Sharks’ longest stretch of games against the Eastern Conference was just seven, which they had done five times in their history.
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Antti Niemi will get the call in net for the Sharks, making back-to-back starts for the first time since Feb. 1-3. He’ll likely oppose Peter Budaj, as Canadiens goalie Carey Price remains out with an injury.
Niemi made 22 saves in a 2-0 win in Montreal in the previous game on Oct. 26, his most recent shutout. He’s 2-1-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in three career games against the Canadiens.
Buduj is 3-6-1 in 10 career games against the Sharks, with a 3.09 GAA and .903 SP.
Based on the morning skate, Marty Havlat will be a healthy scratch for the second straight game since the trade deadline. Defenseman Matt Tennyson will also have to wait.