SAN JOSE During the Sharks slog through the past six weeks, it was hard not to notice that the club had several games in hand on the teams it was battling with for playoff position.
After tonights match against the Ducks, though, that wont be the case. The Sharks will pull even with Dallas and Los Angeles with 72 games played, and will have just one game in hand on Phoenix and Calgary. In fact, the Sharks are the only team in action tonight among the six clubs battling for what appears to be three open spots.
Youve got to take advantage of it, number one, Dan Boyle said. There will be no more talk of it, thats probably the one positive. Games in hand are only good if you win them.
Marty Havlat said: We control our own destiny, for sure.
A win would put the ninth-seeded Sharks (36-25-10, 82 points) back in first place in the Pacific Division, and the automatic third seed that comes with that a place they havent been since losing in Nashville on Feb. 25 at the tail end of their miserable road trip. Thats not something the coach wants to necessarily focus on, though.
Winning is a motivating factor. Not standings, or Pacific Division, because tomorrow well be talking about it again. Just flat out winning has to be their motivator, said Todd McLellan, whose team has gained seven of a possible eight points in the last four games (3-0-1).
Havlat helping: Since the Sharks have returned a healthy Havlat to their lineup, the winger has helped lead the team to a pair of home wins. Hes playing alongside Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe, and McLellan wont touch that line or any of his lines for tonights game with Anaheim (30-32-11, 71 points).
Martys played well for us the two games back. Its allowed guys to play in a position theyre comfortable in. We hope that can continue throughout the rest of the season, McLellan said.
Havlats immediate impact he scored two goals, including the game-winner in overtime on Saturday against Detroit has been a bit surprising, as he missed nearly three months with a partially torn hamstring.
Right, Dan Boyle?
I dont know if surprised is the word. Skill-wise it doesnt surprise me, Boyle said. Any time a player comes back from injury, theres always a question mark is he going to be able to get back to it right away? Hes probably ahead of schedule of what we thought wed see, but its at the right time and we certainly need him.
Counting the two games before he was hurt on Dec. 17, Havlat has five points in his last three games (3g, 2a).
The Sharks' other expected lines are Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski; Dominic Moore, Daniel Winnik and Torrey Mitchell; and Andrew Desjardins, Benn Ferriero and Brad Winchester.
Hiller streaking, but will he rest? Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller has started 32 straight games for the Ducks, the longest streak for a goalie since Antti Niemi started 34 in a row for the Sharks last season.
There was some chatter among the local media that backup Jeff Deslauriers could get the call for Anaheim tonight, but coach Bruce Boudreau wasnt saying. Deslauriers hasn't played since Jan. 10.
Deslauriers will play before this years out. Hes worked too hard in practice, Boudreau said. Hiller has done everything and anything a goaltender could be asked to do. At some point hes going to get a rest.
For the Sharks, Niemi will make his 11th straight start. In the last 10, hes 4-3-3 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.
More on the Ducks: This is the fifth meeting between the Sharks and Ducks this season, and Anaheim has won three of the first four. They havent seen in other in awhile, though, as the Ducks 3-1 win at Honda Center on Jan. 4 was the last time they went head-to-head.
Anaheim, which lost 3-1 at home to Nashville on Sunday night, is out of the playoff race, but that doesnt mean the Sharks dont expect a challenge.
They have a lot of star players who can hurt you if youre not focused. We know they played last night, but its not going to be an easy game, Havlat said.
Boyle said: Its been talked about before, teams that go out and play a little bit looser sometimes can maybe surprise a lot of teams and play better at times.
Things have been better since Bruce Boudreau took over, as the team is 23-19-7 in the 49 games hes been behind the bench. Its still a team that struggles to score, though, and is 25th in the NHL with 2.42 goals-per game. The Ducks are just 11-18-9 on the road, too.
Dont tell the stats to McLellan, though.
They always play us hard. Its a natural rival. Their leadership group kind of matches our leadership group. They provide a lot to their team. They count on three or four guys to do a lot of their scoring and we do the same thing here in our organization, said the head coach.
I dont think were going to see a team thats going to take their foot off the gas pedal. In fact, they may push it a little bit harder tonight.
Odds and ends: The teams conclude the season series in Anaheim on March 28. Tommy Wingels, TJ Galiardi and Michal Handzus remain out for the Sharks, who are expected to ice the same lineup they went with against Detroit. That means Colin White and Jim Vandermeer will sit, too. Toni Lydman returns for Anaheim after missing last game against Nashville (upper body). Teemu Selanne has four points in the last four games (2g, 2a), and leads the Ducks with 62 points. Joe Thornton has two goals and seven assists in his last six games. The Sharks are trying for their first three-game winning streak since Jan. 24 Feb. 2, which includes their last game before the All-Star break.