Sharks-Predators: What to watch for


Sharks-Predators: What to watch for

NASHVILLE As poorly as the Sharks road trip started, the club still has a chance to finish with a .500 record with back-to-back games in Nashville and Minnesota this weekend, beginning tonight at Bridgestone Arena.

It wont be easy. The Predators are among the top teams in the Western Conference, and have not lost in regulation at home since Jan. 5, going 8-0-2 over that span. Their recipe for success remains the same a strong blue line corps, speed up front, and a world-class goaltender in Pekka Rinne.

San Jose, 2-4-1 on its nine-game trek, will try to build off of a 2-1 win in Toronto on Thursday night, ending a season-long four-game losing streak.

We need to start putting together good games back-to-back, Logan Couture said. Were getting down to 23 games left in the year, so were pushing for a playoff spot and we need to be playing our best to make the playoffs.

Joe Thornton said: There are still four points out there to be had, so weve still got to focus in on winning some games. Its been a tough trip, but it can be an average trip if we win these two games.

RELATED: Trotz says Sharks, Preds match up well

Positives from Toronto: The improvements from the Sharks win in Toronto, compared with the 6-3 loss in Columbus the previous game, were numerous. First and foremost, the team was a great deal better in its own zone and got a much-needed strong performance from goaltender Antti Niemi.

McLellan rattled off a few more.

The power play got us a goal. We came out on the winning side of a one-goal game instead of the losing side. Kept a team to under three, which is important to our team, said the coach, before mentioning he got solid play from all four of his lines.

The Sharks were not shorthanded even once against the Maple Leafs, after the coach stressed disciplined play following the Columbus game in which the team committed numerous avoidable infractions resulting in Blue Jackets power play goals.

When were playing well, were disciplined and we dont take many penalties, McLellan said. I look at the team were playing tonight, theyre a very low-penalized team. They do a lot of work with their legs, and with their positioning, and we have to be that type of team tonight.

The Predators and Sharks are among the top power play units in the league. Nashville is second in the NHL with a 21.6 percent rate, while San Jose is just behind in third at 21.5 percent. The Sharks are 14-for-46 on the power play in their last 15 games (37.0 percent), but the Predators have not allowed a power play goal in their last five games.

Secondary scoring needed: The Sharks top scorers have been outstanding lately in terms of putting points on the board. In the last six games, Couture has eight points (4g, 4a), while Thornton (1g, 5a), Joe Pavelski (2g, 4a) and Patrick Marleau (5g, 1a) have six apiece.

Playing at home, the Predators will try and get Shea Weber and Ryan Suter out against the Sharks top line of Thornton-Marleau-Pavelski as much as possible, so a goal or two from the bottom two lines would be huge for San Jose.

Those two are tough to score on, and are big plus players for them, Couture said. For our team to be successful, you need some secondary scoring. Weve had that for the majority for the year, we just need to continue it tonight.

Weve got Pav and Patty and Coutch that are doing a lot of scoring for our team, and after that we need some of the grinders to step up, McLellan said. We need them to play solid defensively, but every now and then we need them to chip in. Its no secret when you go back and look at most of our wins, theyve found a way to contribute at some point.

Among the Sharks that havent lit the lamp lately are Torrey Mitchell (15 games), Ryane Clowe (nine games) and Jamie McGinn (seven games).

Niemi vs. Rinne: Antti Niemi will try and win back-to-back starts for the first time since Jan. 24 and 31 (the games immediately preceding and following the All-Star break), when he mans the crease for the Sharks tonight.

In seven career games against Nashville, Niemi is 4-2-1 with a 2.39 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.

Nashville will go with Pekka Rinne, who will start for the 15th time in the last 16 games. Rinne has allowed two goals of fewer in five straight games, and is 4-2-3 with a 2.47 GAA and .931 SP against the Sharks in 10 career games.

Odds and ends: Predators forward Patric Hornqvist will return tonight after a five-game absence due to an upper body injury. ... The Sharks and Predators split two early season meetings this season, with each team winning on the others home ice. In the last 16 games between these teams, 13 have been decided by one goal. Nashville is playing its third game of a five-game homestand, and is 1-0-1 so far. Dominic Moore (lower body) and Douglas Murray (fractured Adams apple) remain out for the Sharks, and wont play tomorrow in Minnesota, either. Todd McLellan expects Moore to play probably over the next week. Nashville is 15-2-2 in its last 19 home games. McLellan on the Sharks nearing the end of their road trip: Youre always concerned as a road trip winds down that guys are looking forward to getting home, but we havent banked enough points at all on this trip to do that.

Anonymous poll: Is Sharks defenseman Burns still Norris frontrunner?

Anonymous poll: Is Sharks defenseman Burns still Norris frontrunner?

Throughout much of his dominant 2016-17 season, the words “Norris Trophy lock” have often preceded Brent Burns’ name. 

The 32-year-old has led all NHL blueliners in scoring for the past three months, building upon a strong second half last season in which he helped lead the Sharks to their first ever Stanley Cup Final, and solidifying himself as one of the best defensemen in the game.

In 76 games, Burns has 28 goals – 11 more than any other defenseman – and 45 assists for 73 points and a plus-17 rating. At one point on Feb. 19, he had 14 more points than Erik Karlsson, who was second among NHL defensemen.

But Burns went cold earlier this month. During one stretch, he went nine out of 10 games without finding the scoresheet, and finally snapped a 16-game goal drought with an overtime winner on Tuesday against the Rangers.

Meanwhile, Karlsson has been heating up. A two-time Norris Trophy winner in 2012 and 2015, the Senators defenseman has 13 points in his last 14 games. As of Wednesday morning, Karlsson was just five points behind Burns in scoring, with 15 goals and 53 assists for 68 points and a plus-seven rating.

There’s talk Karlsson could take home a third Norris, snatching it out of Burns’ grasp.

But, probably not.

In an anonymous poll among 21 PHWA members, most of whom get a vote for the Norris Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season, Burns’ designation as the frontrunner seems fairly safe with just six games to go in the regular season.

Of the writers polled, including a broad swath from across North America, 14 told CSN they would likely vote for Burns as the league’s best defensemen if the season ended Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. Three were leaning towards Burns, while only four said they would give it to Karlsson.

One writer polled had Burns first, Tampa Bay’s Viktor Hedman second, and Karlsson third.

Of course, 21 votes is just a small sample size of the PHWA membership. Last season, 183 writers took part in voting for the Norris, according to the final tally. Burns finished third in voting, well behind winner Drew Doughty, while Karlsson was second.

Still, as long as Burns stays in front of Karlsson in the scoring race, it appears he remains in line to become the first Sharks defenseman ever to earn a Norris Trophy.

Three takeaways: Tierney takes over; Sharks finally score first

Three takeaways: Tierney takes over; Sharks finally score first

SAN JOSE – In desperate need of a win and without arguably their best forward over the past two months, the Sharks found a way to get past the New York Rangers, 5-4, in what was – from a purely entertainment standpoint – one of the best games of the season. Let’s dig a little deeper on what is a much happier morning in Sharks-land with our three takeaways…

1 – Tierney takes over

While several of the Sharks depth players contributed, no one was better than fourth line center Chris Tierney, who had a pair of goals, a plus-three rating, and five shots (tied with David Schlemko for the team lead).

His game-tying goal late in the third period was huge, and he credited Jannik Hansen getting him the puck, as Hansen made a slick play on the Mikkel Boedker rebound. Interestingly, Pete DeBoer put those three players out as a line for the first time that night, with less than three minutes to go in regulation.

"I think it was Jannik who made the play. It was a great play,” Tierney said. “I was kind of just wide open. That's a pretty easy goal for me when he makes that play."

Tierney continues to be somewhat enigmatic. Every once in awhile he’ll have a dominant performance like this one (such as Feb. 2 in Vancouver), but then he’s invisible offensively for weeks at a time. To be fair, Tierney doesn’t always have the most highly skilled linemates while centering the fourth line, but when he puts up the kind of game like he did on Tuesday night it does make you wonder why it doesn’t happen more often.

Still, his game against the Rangers provides hope that he’ll be able to fill a void while Logan Couture is out, and we’ve already seen that Tierney can be a very effective player in the postseason, too.

2 – Getting one early

It’s hard to believe that the Sharks didn’t have a lead in a game before Tuesday since March 14 in Buffalo. After that game, which they came back to win fairly easily, they allowed the first goal in all six games of their losing streak and never recovered.

It was evident early that the Sharks were poised to end both their first-goal streak and their losing streak, as the first three shifts were all played in New York’s end. Hansen capped it off by swatting in a loose puck that Boedker had put on net.

“It was critical. I don’t think it was an accident our record over the last six or seven without scoring first,” DeBoer said. “Traditionally we’ve been pretty good in that area. But it’s slipped here in the last six or seven. We found a way tonight. I thought we played a great game.”

Joe Pavelski said: "It was nice coming out in the first and scoring first. It’s been awhile since we had a lead. So, that was good to see. I think everyone was encouraged by that start."

The Sharks improved to 32-9-1 when scoring first. They are 11-17-6 when allowing the opening score.

3 – Melk man delivers one

Is there a more overlooked player on the Sharks roster than Melker Karlsson? He’s not a flashy guy, of course, but Karlsson plays that north-south game that coaches love, and he’s a tenacious penalty killer, too. He now has 10 goals on the season, good for fifth on the team.

His shorthanded goal, on a two-on-one with Tierney, gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead just before the first intermission.

“They took away the pass to Tierns there,” Karlsson said. “I looked up a little bit, and it went in. Low blocker is usually a good shot.”

Karlsson was playing in his first game since missing the previous eight with a lower body injury. As one of those depth guys, is there more responsibility for him and others to help fill the void left by Couture?

“Yeah. We’ve always got to be there, but especially when Logan is out. He’s a big player for us,” Karlsson said.