PROGRAMMING NOTE: Get your night started with Sharks Pregame Live at 7 p.m. followed by the drop of the puck at 7:30, followed by Sharks Postgame Live.
SAN JOSE With NHL realignment on the way next year, the Sharks and Stars wont get as many opportunities to stage their fierce, emotional battles as often as they have over the past few seasons.
There are still five more chances this season, though, including Thursday night at HP Pavilion when Dallas makes its first of three visits.
Every time we play Dallas its a battle, and theres some animosity between the two teams, said Logan Couture. We dont like each other. Thats the way it is.
The first time these teams met on Nov. 19, the Sharks were in the midst of a stretch where they won six of seven, while Dallas entered the game having been shutout in its previous two games. San Jose was 2-for-5 on the power play, and in control for just about the duration of a 4-1 win, which ended with a spirited fight between Ryane Clowe and Krys Barch. Clowe was fined by the NHL the next day for slashing Stephane Robidas, too.
A total of 100 penalty minutes were assessed that night, 53 minutes to the Stars in a game that included three fights and four misconducts.
It was a physical game, some fights -- almost the usual when we play Dallas, said Clowe. A lot of chirping going on out there and a lot of talk. Its always a physical kind of up-tempo game against those guys, and they have a lot of guys that try to get you off your game. You have to stay poised and not get frustrated."
As for Barch, he was traded to Florida just yesterday, so he and Clowe will have to wait until next season to renew acquaintances.
I figured I might run into him or see him again, but it wont be this year, I guess, said Clowe.
The Sharks have lost four of their last five, all in regulation, and havent won a regulation game since Nov. 23 vs. Chicago. They play one more at home tonight before embarking on a three-game road trip this weekend to St. Louis, Chicago and Colorado.
They are just 7-6-1 on home ice, and 3-4-0 against their division.
Tonights a time where we need to start playing better and winning at home, said Couture.
Winchester promoted: Brad Winchester, who has spent essentially the entire season on the teams fourth line, has been bumped up to the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski yesterday and it appears thats the look McLellan will go with tonight.
Winchesters role will be to get to the front of the net while Thornton and Pavelski try to get the puck there.
Just being around the net and creating some space, and just trying to read off the other two guys, said Winchester of what he will be trying to accomplish.
Of course, Winchester can also act as an enforcer of sorts against the Stars, especially considering how the previous game between the two teams ended.
Youre certainly aware of what happened last game, he said. I dont think it necessarily changes our mindset and our game plan, but theres no secret that we want to get off to a great start. Its up to us to establish the energy and initiate, and get in on the forecheck and sustain that throughout the game. Thats going to be our mindset right away.
Patrick Marleau, meanwhile, appears set to play on the third line with Michal Handzus and Jamie McGinn. Lines were unclear at the morning skate, though, which was optional.
Defensive changes: Douglas Murray (right hand) and Jim Vandermeer (upper body) are not available against the Stars, meaning Colin White will be reinserted into the lineup.
McLellan was happier with his clubs defensive effort against Minnesota after a terrible game against the Panthers last Saturday.
Defensively, we were better, he said. We didnt have the obvious turnovers up the middle that we did in the Florida game. So, that was cleaned up a little bit.
More chances on the power play: The Sharks have scored just one power play goal in their last five games, including an 0-for-3 effort against Minnesota. Thats dropped their percentage to seventh in the NHL (19.8 percent).
McLellans theory on why the power play is faltering is because it hasnt had enough opportunities to get in a rhythm. San Jose has had a man advantage just six times in the last three games combined.
I think its a reflection on where some of our players are at individually. Theyre not real sharp right now and theyre not playing to their capabilities, said the coach. You put them out there collectively as a group of five, and you cant turn the switch on.
The other thing is, we havent been earning enough power plays, in my opinion, to get any type of momentum. What leads to the power plays? The intensity and the battle level has to be high enough to draw penalties.
Meanwhile, the penalty kill is still sputtering along at a league worst 74.3 percent.
Odds and ends: Antti Niemi will start in net. The Stars will be without defenseman Mark Fistric, who will be serving the first of a three-game suspension for hitting the Islanders Nino Niederreiter. Dallas is expected to get Trevor Daley (back), Brenden Morrow (back) and Alex Goligoski (thumb) back for the game, according to the Dallas Morning News.