Sharks-Red Wings: What to watch for

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Sharks-Red Wings: What to watch for

SAN JOSE For the first time in weeks, the San Jose Sharks will face a team thats struggling to get a win even more than they are.

The Detroit Red Wings visit HP Pavilion tonight, looking to avoid their first four-game losing streak since October. Meanwhile, the Sharks are finally showing signs of gaining momentum, with wins in two of their last three games and points in five of the last six (2-1-3).

The Sharks will try for back-to-back victories for the first time since Jan. 31 Feb. 2, after beating the Predators, 2-1, in a shootout at home on Thursday.

Winning a shootout is something we havent done in awhile, so that lifts us a bit, Todd McLellan said. Playing at home, challenged by a good team, we should have a little momentum and feel a little better about ourselves than we did two weeks ago.

We worked hard 60 minutes, found a way to win, so just build from that, Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. Get pucks to the net, keep crashing the net, a lot of good offensive plays last game, the D were involved in the rush. All those things weve done in the past, just keep doing that.

Niemi going strong: Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi will make his 10th straight start tonight, facing Detroits Jimmy Howard.

Niemi has allowed just 18 goals over his last nine starts (3-3-3). McLellan senses his goaltender is settling in for the stretch run.

I do sense that hes starting to feel more comfortable. He knows when he wakes up in the morning that hes coming to the rink to play, said the head coach. Hes tightened things up since the road trip, and weve tightened up around him defensively since the road trip. Thats something that well need tonight.

In 10 career regular season games against Detroit, Niemi is 7-2-1 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

Howard is just 3-4-1 with a sub par 3.12 GAA and .903 SP against San Jose.

Datsyuk in, Franzen and Lidstrom out: The Red Wings will welcome Pavel Datsyuk back to the lineup tonight, after the center has missed 11 games with a knee injury. His absence, though, seems to have given head coach Mike Babcock a chance to assess the rest of his team.

I think any time you have injuries its great because you get to evaluate what you have, the Red Wings' coach said on Saturday. You get to see who can do it by themselves, and whos a support player. Obviously, weve seen some support players. When youre a dominant player like Pavel, you can drag people along, and he makes a line go by himself.

Datsyuk is expected to play with Todd Bertuzzi and Danny Cleary, and that line will likely see a healthy dose of Sharks defensemen Vlasic and Dan Boyle.

Hes probably the top guy with the puck in the whole league and the world, Boyle said. You cant bite on anything. If you bite on any of the moves theres a very good chance youre going to get beat. Its important to keep him between yourself and your goalie and try to keep him on the outside as best you can.

Johan Franzen, however, will miss the game with back spasms after leaving Detroits practice early on Friday. So will Nicklas Lidstrom, who has missed eight straight games with a bruised ankle and flew home to Detroit ahead of the team.

He means a lot to that team, obviously Im well aware of that from just the locker room out, said McLellan, a former assistant coach with Detroit, of Lidstrom. The rest of the hockey world gets to see him play every night, and when you combine both hes as good as there is. Not having him in is certainly is an advantage or us, but that opens up advantages on there team for others to step up.

Detroits power play hasnt scored in its last 28 tries with Lidstrom out of the lineup.
Crash the net: The Sharks have just 13 goals in their last nine games, and, as is often the case when a team is struggling to find the scoreboard, the players say that getting to the net more is the way to change that.

Just getting quality shots through, and traffic, Justin Braun said. The goalies are good, youre not going to beat them clean from the point very often. If we can get some traffic, get some rebounds, that will help us out.

The Sharks lead the league in 34.4 shots per game, but many of them are too routine for the opposing goalie.

We get a lot of pucks to the net. I think we could get in front of the goalie more, Vlasic said.

Familiarity breeds contempt: The Sharks have won two of three games against the Red Wings, but dropped a 3-2 decision in the most recent match up at Joe Louis Arena on Feb. 19. That was the 23rd and final win of the Red Wings record home streak.

San Jose, of course, has knocked Detroit from the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. These are two teams that know each other well.

Weve played this team more than anybody else in the last two or three years, so not a lot of secrets, McLellan said.

Its a relatively easy game to prepare for; a very tough game to play.

Overall, San Jose has won five of the last six regular season games.

Its a very easy game to get up for. Weve done a good job, Boyle said.

Odds and ends: The Sharks enter tonights game in ninth place in the Western Conference, but could move as high as seventh following tonights action. Other games to watch include Colorado at the Rangers and Nashville at Los Angeles. Detroit has lost seven of eight on the road, and is 16-20-1 overall away from home. Patrick Marleau has an assist in three straight games. Detroits Valtteri Filppula has five points in the last five games. Joe Thornton has eight points (2g, 6a) in the last five games. Tommy Wingels remains out with an upper body injury. ... Brad Winchester will likely return to the lineup, possibly in place of Benn Ferriero. Colin White, Michal Handzus and Jim Vandermeer are also probable scratches.

Despite loss, Sharks 'in a good spot' headed into bye week

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Despite loss, Sharks 'in a good spot' headed into bye week

SAN JOSE – Despite what was technically their sixth loss in the last eight games, the Sharks seemed to put more stock in the point they gained in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Bruins on Sunday night at SAP Center, rather than the one they left on the table.

They have that luxury. 

The Sharks will enter their bye week five points ahead of Edmonton and Anaheim for first place in the Pacific Division, and figure they’re due for some time off after a short summer followed by a World Cup for some, and a brutal condensed NHL schedule for all.

“[We’ve] showed up and played hard,” Joe Pavelski said. “We’ve been in a lot of games. Games we’ve lost, we’ve battled. There hasn’t been any cheat in [our] game. Defensively, we’ve been strong. There’s a lot of good areas in our game that we like right now.”

Playing in the second of a back-to-back against a Bruins team had was coming off of its own bye week, the Sharks fell behind 1-0 on a first period goal by Ryan Spooner, but notched a Patrick Marleau equalizer in a second period in which they outshot the Bruins 16-9. An evenly played third period gave way to overtime, where Brad Marchand scored on a breakaway to give the Bruins their fourth straight win since changing head coaches.

The Sharks spoke before the weekend about finishing the final two games strong before the respite. They ended up gaining three of four points, including Saturday’s 4-1 win in Arizona, and were pleased with their effort against the Bruins as they capped off 10 games in 20 days since the All-Star break.

“It was an important push into this break,” Pete DeBoer said. “To go in up [five points] on the next closest team is a real testament to our group.”

Paul Martin said: “I thought we played pretty well, considering the back-to-back with some travel, and a team that was waiting for us.”

Perhaps the most encouraging performance came from Martin Jones, who was one of a number of Sharks players that was looking particularly fatigued lately. The goaltender entered the game with a 1-0-2 record, 4.46 goals-against average and .837 save percentage in his last four starts, including getting pulled after the first period in Boston just 10 days ago.

Jones was impressive, though, making a vital pad stop on the dangerous David Pastrnak in front of the net midway through the third period to keep it a 1-1 score.

“It was a good game. Two teams playing hard,” Jones said. “We can take a lot of positives from that one. It was a good hard game, just didn’t go our way tonight.”

Overtimes have been an issue lately, though. The Sharks have lost their last four games decided during the three-on-three, all coming within the last two weeks. As satisfied as they are with their cushion in the division, it could have been cushier.

Against the Bruins, Tuukka Rask denied Brent Burns on a two-on-one in overtime, and Marchand scored off of the ensuing faceoff, blowing the zone past Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic and corralling a long toss from Torey Krug before sliding it home.

“We get to overtime, shootouts – we expect to get that extra point,” Pavelski said. “We haven’t found it lately. We’ll just keep looking for it.”

DeBoer said: “The points are critical, they’re valuable. I don’t read a lot into [overtime decisions], we’ve won our share over the time I’ve been here. We had a chance to win tonight, too. … I concentrate on the effort, and I thought we got better as the game went on.”

Being focused and energized, as they have been most of the season to this point, shouldn’t be a problem when the season resumes next Saturday in Vancouver. The Sharks are in prime position to win their first division title since 2010-11, and a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final is a distinct possibility.

Losing six of eight won’t be nearly as acceptable coming out of the break as it apparently is going into it, but that’s not something to worry about now, even after another defeat. 

“There are some games you wish you could get back and get those points, but we’re still in a good spot,” Marleau said.

Instant Replay: Bruins score in overtime, send Sharks to the break with a loss

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Instant Replay: Bruins score in overtime, send Sharks to the break with a loss

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE – The Boston Bruins skated past the San Jose Sharks on Sunday at SAP Center, 2-1 in overtime.

Brad Marchand’s breakaway goal after the Bruins won a defensive zone faceoff gave Boston the win, as Torey Krug found the forward charging towards the San Jose net. Marchand slipped the puck through Martin Jones’ five hole at 2:36.

San Jose has dropped its last four games decided in the three-on-three.

The Sharks lost for the sixth time in their last eight games (2-1-5), headed into the bye week. They will not play or practice from Monday through Friday, and resume their season on Saturday in Vancouver.

Boston extended its winning streak to four games since firing Claude Julien and naming Bruce Cassidy the interim head coach. The streak began with a 6-3 win over the Sharks at TD Garden on Feb. 9.

The Bruins were just the fourth team of 20 to win the first game after their bye week (4-12-4).

Boston scored the only goal in the first period, while the Sharks answered with a second period tally.

Ryan Spooner’s marker at 11:05 of the opening frame put Boston ahead. An Adam McQuaid point shot found Jimmy Hayes in the slot, and after Hayes fired wide of the net, Spooner tucked in the loose puck.

San Jose turned up the pressure late in the second, finally resulting in a goal by Patrick Marleau. During a four-on-four situation, Brent Burns’ wrist shot deflected right to Marleau’s tape, and he easily flipped in his 502nd career goal at 17:37.

Sharks coach Pete DeBoer shortened his bench for the third period, leaving Mikkel Boedker and Nikolay Goldobin planted on the pine. Melker Karlsson took Boedker’s place on the second line, while Chris Tierney skated on the third line with Tomas Hertl and Joel Ward.

The Sharks are 6-3-1 in the second half of back-to-backs.

Special teams

Each team had just one power play in the game, failing to convert.

The Sharks are 3-for-24 on the power play over their last eight games (12.5 percent), but a perfect 8-for-8 on the PK in their last five.

In goal

Jones was facing the Bruins just 10 days after he was pulled to start the second period in Boston when he allowed three goals on 12 shots. He allowed two goals on 27 shots.

Tuukka Rask made 29 saves for the win.

Lineup

The Sharks’ lineup was unchanged from Saturday’s win in Arizona, other than the goaltender. Goldobin played in his second game of the season.

Joe Thornton remains two assists away from 1000 in his career. His five-game point streak came to an end.

Burns had 20 shot attempts, including seven on net.

Up next

Saturday’s game in Vancouver begins a stretch where the Sharks will play their final 22 games over a 43-day span. On Feb. 2, they won the first of five meetings with the Canucks, 4-1 at Rogers Arena.

Vancouver, which hosted Philadelphia on Sunday, also has its bye week from Feb. 20-24.