Sharks return home for showdown with Red Wings
Tommy Wingels has missed the last five games; Tyler Kennedy has missed the last four. (USATSI)
Programming note: Red Wings-Sharks coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
SAN JOSE -- Two players are returning, and another is one is out as the Sharks prepare for the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night at home.
Tommy Wingels and Tyler Kennedy will be welcome additions up front, while defenseman Matt Irwin is now sidelined with an upper body injury, per coach Todd McLellan. Matt Tennyson has been recalled as insurance, while Scott Hannan will likely draw back into the lineup on the blue line. Freddie Hamilton has been reassigned to Worcester to clear a spot for Wingels.
The shorthanded Sharks, who lost their most significant player to date in Logan Couture for the next three-to-four weeks, have alternated wins and losses in their last six games. They are coming off of a 3-2 defeat in Nashville on Tuesday, the first time all season they were without Couture.
Wingels’ upper body injury and Kennedy’s flu have passed. Wingels missed the last five games, Kennedy the last four.
“They look good, and ready to go,” McLellan said. “That's a nice thing to have them back, and now they have to produce."
Kennedy is one player in particular from whom the Sharks would welcome more production. The 27-year-old has just three goals and nine assists in 39 games, was a healthy scratch on Dec. 17, and was skating on the fourth line before getting sick. He has one assist in his last 15 games.
Now would be an ideal time for him to play better.
“Whenever guys are out of the lineup you get an opportunity to get better and get a little more ice time,” Kennedy said. “Obviously, I’ve got to embrace it and take the challenge.”
McLellan said: “Tyler coming back from the flu, hopefully his energy level is where it needs to be, but he is an energizing-type player. He plays fast, shoots the puck a lot. Maybe this little break due to illness will reset his season, and get him going."
McLellan sensed a more positive feeling around his club on Thursday morning, when compared to the emotional day in Nashville. Team Canada’s Olympic roster was revealed on Tuesday, and included Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Patrick Marleau but not Couture, Joe Thornton or Dan Boyle.
[RELATED: Vlasic, Marleau make Team Canada]
“It was a distracting day in Nashville,” the coach said. “I didn't feel good about our team early in the morning. They were out of sorts watching the announcement, and then debating after. And then coming into the game, some of our leaders didn't have their best nights, and we don't win like that. Today feels a little bit different, so hopefully it takes care of itself."
The Sharks will need to be sharp against Detroit, which not only owns a 13-3-4 record on the road, but has been off since last Saturday’s 5-1 win in Dallas.
In the teams’ only previous meeting, neither club was able to score through regulation and overtime and the Sharks won on Couture’s conversion in the shootout on Oct. 21.
“Just a tight game, a regular San Jose-Detroit type game,” Thornton said.
McLellan said: “We'll take some of the good things that we did that night and try and apply them here. We have to remember, they also shut us out. So, it was a pretty evenly played game. It came down to a shootout, so there's some things we need to do better offensively to at least get one.”
The Red Wings remain without some notable names themselves, including Pavel Datsyuk, due to a reported groin injury. Johan Franzen and Darren Helm are also among their wounded.
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Antti Niemi will start again in goal for the Sharks, facing Jimmy Howard. Howard played well in Dallas, stopping 44 of 45 shots in the Detroit win.
Perhaps a game against Detroit can help get the struggling Niemi back on track. The goaltender is 11-2-2 with a 1.68 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in 15 career games against the Red Wings.
Howard is just 3-5-4 with a 2.61 GAA and .915 SP in 12 games when opposing the Sharks.