Sharks-Kings: What to watch for

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Sharks-Kings: What to watch for

LOS ANGELES There are just 10 games remaining in the regular season, and one thing is certain if the Sharks play the way they did against the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, there are just 10 games left in their season, period.

Were going to have our hands full with L.A. waiting for us, said Ryane Clowe after the 5-3 loss to the Ducks on Monday night. Were going to have to play a hell of a lot better than we did tonight, thats for sure.

As much as a step back the loss to Anaheim was, the Sharks could still end up back in the top eight by the time the night is through. Other games to keep an eye on include Phoenix in Dallas, and Colorado hosting Calgary. The Sharks will hope first and foremost that both of those games end in regulation as all four of those teams are still in the hunt for what looks to be three open positions.

Three left with Los Angeles: Of the Sharks 10 remaining games, three are against the Kings. After tonights matchup, the teams conclude the regular season with a home-and-home against one another.

San Jose is 2-1 against LA, including a shootout win at HP Pavilion on Dec. 23 in the most recent encounter.

In all, the Sharks have eight games left in their division. San Jose is 7-8-1 in divisional play this season, including a 3-0-1 mark against Dallas, whom they face twice more.

Los Angeles is looking for its fifth straight win, and has played noticeably better since acquiring forward Jeff Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets as part of a trade for defenseman Jack Johnson. Their four wins have come against Chicago in a shootout, and Detroit, Anaheim and Nashville in regulation.

The Sharks had a 3-0-1 streak snapped by Anaheim on Monday night.

Roster report: The Sharks are still without forward Michal Handzus (undisclosed), TJ Galiardi (upper body) and Tommy Wingels (upper body), all of whom did not make the trip to Los Angeles. The Kings are missing Simon Gagne and Kevin Westgarth.

Antti Niemi, who was pulled in the second period after allowing four goals to the Ducks, will likely make to make his 12th straight start. In 11 career appearances against LA in the regular season, Niemi is 7-2-2 with a 1.69 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.

The Kings will go with Vezina Trophy candidate Jonathan Quick, who is fourth in the league in GAA (2.00) and sixth in SP (.928). Hes a pedestrian 7-4-2 with a 2.36 GAA and .920 SP against the Sharks in the regular season.

Kings expect fired up Sharks: The Kings are well aware that the Sharks will be looking to quickly put Mondays poor effort behind them. This morning at Staples Center, Mike Richards told Rich Hammond:
I think were excited. You can feel it in here, that were excited for the game tonight. Im sure theyre going to be ready for it too. We have to be ready for the way theyre going to come out, because obviously they lost a big game last night, but as long as were ready to play, and expect the best out of ourselves, we should be fine.

Los Angeles has scored the first goal of the game nine times in their last 11 games, so the start will obviously be important.

Odds and ends: The Sharks are just 4-10-4 in their last 18 road games, with three of those wins coming against non-playoff opponents. San Jose leads the league with 34.4 shots per game. The Kings have allowed just 112 five-on-five goals, the fourth fewest in the league. San Jose has allowed the fifth fewest (121). The Sharks and Kings have each lost 13 times by one goal in regulation, tied for the most in the NHL with the Blue Jackets. The Kings are 8-3-0 in their last 11 games, outscoring the opposition 37-23.

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.