Sharks hope to attack Flyers' defense

Sharks hope to attack Flyers' defense
February 3, 2014, 12:30 pm
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The Sharks will be facing the Flyers for the first time in nearly two years, as the last game between the clubs was on Feb. 28, 2012. (AP IMAGES)

Programming note: Sharks-Flyers coverage begins Monday at 7 p.m.with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California

SAN JOSE – Headed into Monday night’s game with the Flyers, lack of offense is still a reason for anxiety for the San Jose Sharks, despite the club ending its three-game losing streak on Saturday against Chicago.

The Sharks have scored just two goals in their last four games, but one in regulation was all they needed in a 2-1 shootout win over the Blackhawks.

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“We’re still concerned, but you have to have the ability to win like we did against Chicago. We may need that again tonight,” Todd McLellan said.

For the first time all season, Joe Thornton has gone four straight games without getting on the scoresheet. He now trails Sidney Crosby for the league lead in assists, with 47 to Crosby’s 48.

Linemate Brent Burns is still looking for his first goal since Logan Couture was pulled from the lineup with a hand injury 13 games ago.

“We’re getting our chances, just finish. Put some finish on the game,” Thornton said. “I’ve been telling Burnzie, we don’t need to press. We’re getting good chances. Just stick with it, and we’ll be OK.”

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McLellan said: “I think Joe’s get-going part is going to come off of what the others do. He’s such a good passer and he sets people up to score, so if they accomplish the finish part, Joe will be on the board quickly.”

Burns’ inability to light the lamp isn’t for a lack of trying. The big winger has a whopping 20 shots in his last three games.

“Burnzie has also improved his game over the last three or four with being in the right spot, the ability to shoot, and getting shots off,” McLellan said. “It’s a matter of time, I think, for those two.”

The Sharks will be facing the Flyers for the first time in nearly two years, as the last game between the clubs was on Feb. 28, 2012, a 1-0 San Jose win (the Flyers haven’t beaten the Sharks since Dec. 21, 2000).

While the Sharks will try and focus on their own game more than what their opponents do, pregame preparation from the coaching staff could be more important than usual due to the unfamiliarity.

“[The coaches] always do a great job of getting us the right information, and it’s up to us to use that information to our advantage,” Patrick Marleau said. “At the same time, it’s going to be about our game and how we need to get pucks in, get our forecheck going, and breakout cleanly in our zone.”

McLellan repeated the old adage of the team focusing on itself more than anything else, but added, “that doesn’t mean we don’t zero in on trying to share information to the players about our opponent.”

The key to tonight’s game could be Philadelphia’s back end. The Flyers’ blueliners are not a particularly fast or skilled group, and will be missing veteran Kimmo Timonen with a foot injury. The Sharks’ ability to forecheck and create turnovers will be imperative, as the Flyers are a very capable and dangerous group up front.

“I think, for me, just how the defense plays,” Thornton said of approaching Philadelphia. “Forecheck hard, and don’t let their skilled forwards get the puck.”

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Tyler Kennedy, who missed the last two games with a lower body injury and has been a bit of a Flyer-killer in his career, will likely return.

Antti Niemi will make back-to-back starts for the first time since Jan. 18-20. Niemi shut out the Flyers in his only career appearance against them in the regular season, and backstopped the Blackhawks to a win over Philadelphia in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.

Steve Mason, the former Blue Jackets’ goalie, will get the call for the Flyers. He’s 5-6-1 against the Sharks in his career with a 2.72 GAA and .923 SP, all with Columbus.