Sharks-Ducks: What to watch for

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Sharks-Ducks: What to watch for

SAN JOSE During the Sharks slog through the past six weeks, it was hard not to notice that the club had several games in hand on the teams it was battling with for playoff position.

After tonights match against the Ducks, though, that wont be the case. The Sharks will pull even with Dallas and Los Angeles with 72 games played, and will have just one game in hand on Phoenix and Calgary. In fact, the Sharks are the only team in action tonight among the six clubs battling for what appears to be three open spots.

Youve got to take advantage of it, number one, Dan Boyle said. There will be no more talk of it, thats probably the one positive. Games in hand are only good if you win them.

Marty Havlat said: We control our own destiny, for sure.

A win would put the ninth-seeded Sharks (36-25-10, 82 points) back in first place in the Pacific Division, and the automatic third seed that comes with that a place they havent been since losing in Nashville on Feb. 25 at the tail end of their miserable road trip. Thats not something the coach wants to necessarily focus on, though.

Winning is a motivating factor. Not standings, or Pacific Division, because tomorrow well be talking about it again. Just flat out winning has to be their motivator, said Todd McLellan, whose team has gained seven of a possible eight points in the last four games (3-0-1).

Havlat helping: Since the Sharks have returned a healthy Havlat to their lineup, the winger has helped lead the team to a pair of home wins. Hes playing alongside Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe, and McLellan wont touch that line or any of his lines for tonights game with Anaheim (30-32-11, 71 points).

Martys played well for us the two games back. Its allowed guys to play in a position theyre comfortable in. We hope that can continue throughout the rest of the season, McLellan said.

Havlats immediate impact he scored two goals, including the game-winner in overtime on Saturday against Detroit has been a bit surprising, as he missed nearly three months with a partially torn hamstring.

Right, Dan Boyle?

I dont know if surprised is the word. Skill-wise it doesnt surprise me, Boyle said. Any time a player comes back from injury, theres always a question mark is he going to be able to get back to it right away? Hes probably ahead of schedule of what we thought wed see, but its at the right time and we certainly need him.

Counting the two games before he was hurt on Dec. 17, Havlat has five points in his last three games (3g, 2a).

The Sharks' other expected lines are Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski; Dominic Moore, Daniel Winnik and Torrey Mitchell; and Andrew Desjardins, Benn Ferriero and Brad Winchester.
Hiller streaking, but will he rest? Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller has started 32 straight games for the Ducks, the longest streak for a goalie since Antti Niemi started 34 in a row for the Sharks last season.

There was some chatter among the local media that backup Jeff Deslauriers could get the call for Anaheim tonight, but coach Bruce Boudreau wasnt saying. Deslauriers hasn't played since Jan. 10.

Deslauriers will play before this years out. Hes worked too hard in practice, Boudreau said. Hiller has done everything and anything a goaltender could be asked to do. At some point hes going to get a rest.

For the Sharks, Niemi will make his 11th straight start. In the last 10, hes 4-3-3 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.
More on the Ducks: This is the fifth meeting between the Sharks and Ducks this season, and Anaheim has won three of the first four. They havent seen in other in awhile, though, as the Ducks 3-1 win at Honda Center on Jan. 4 was the last time they went head-to-head.

Anaheim, which lost 3-1 at home to Nashville on Sunday night, is out of the playoff race, but that doesnt mean the Sharks dont expect a challenge.

They have a lot of star players who can hurt you if youre not focused. We know they played last night, but its not going to be an easy game, Havlat said.

Boyle said: Its been talked about before, teams that go out and play a little bit looser sometimes can maybe surprise a lot of teams and play better at times.

Things have been better since Bruce Boudreau took over, as the team is 23-19-7 in the 49 games hes been behind the bench. Its still a team that struggles to score, though, and is 25th in the NHL with 2.42 goals-per game. The Ducks are just 11-18-9 on the road, too.

Dont tell the stats to McLellan, though.

They always play us hard. Its a natural rival. Their leadership group kind of matches our leadership group. They provide a lot to their team. They count on three or four guys to do a lot of their scoring and we do the same thing here in our organization, said the head coach.

I dont think were going to see a team thats going to take their foot off the gas pedal. In fact, they may push it a little bit harder tonight.
Odds and ends: The teams conclude the season series in Anaheim on March 28. Tommy Wingels, TJ Galiardi and Michal Handzus remain out for the Sharks, who are expected to ice the same lineup they went with against Detroit. That means Colin White and Jim Vandermeer will sit, too. Toni Lydman returns for Anaheim after missing last game against Nashville (upper body). Teemu Selanne has four points in the last four games (2g, 2a), and leads the Ducks with 62 points. Joe Thornton has two goals and seven assists in his last six games. The Sharks are trying for their first three-game winning streak since Jan. 24 Feb. 2, which includes their last game before the All-Star break.

NHL Gameday: Sharks try to rebound from ugly loss, host Jets this afternoon

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NHL Gameday: Sharks try to rebound from ugly loss, host Jets this afternoon

Programming note – Sharks-Jets coverage starts today at 12:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 25-16-2, 52 points, 3rd Pacific Division
Jets: 20-22-4, 44 points, 6th Central Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***The Sharks have lost their last two in regulation, and are just 2-4-1 in their last seven games overall. That includes a decisive defeat at SAP Center on Saturday when they were blanked by St. Louis, 4-0.

Today will be just their second afternoon game of the season. They beat the Islanders on Nov. 25 at home, 3-2, and were 5-2-0 in matinee games last season.

***The Jets have dropped three straight (0-2-1), and are concluding a three-game California swing tonight. They lost in overtime to the Kings on Saturday, 3-2, scoring both of their goals on the power play.

Winnipeg is 10-for-38 on the power play since Dec. 20 (26.3 percent), while the Sharks are just 14-for-19 on the PK over their last seven.

San Jose’s power play continues to scuffle, going 15-for-106 since Nov. 1 (14.1 percent). Perhaps a visit from the Jets will help, as the Sharks were 4-for-15 on the power play against Winnipeg last season.

***Joonas Donskoi did not play on Saturday with an upper body injury, and is questionable for today’s game. 

The Jets remain without Patrik Laine, who is tied for the NHL rookie lead in goals (21) and points (37) but suffered a concussion on Jan. 7.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Joe Pavelski. The captain took the blame for missing a wide open net on a Sharks power play on Saturday against St. Louis, which would have given the Sharks a 1-0 lead and potentially changed the flow of what ended up as an ugly defeat. He’s still second on the team in goals (15) and points (39).

Jets: Nikolaj Ehlers. The Jets forward leads the team in road scoring with 24 points, and saw a seven-game point streak – in which he had nine points over that span – come to an end on Saturday. The 20-year-old former first round pick in 2014 has three points (2g, 1a) in three games against San Jose.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Patrick Marleau – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Kevin Labanc – Logan Couture – Mikkel Boedker
Timo Meier – Chris Tierney – Joel Ward
Micheal Haley – Tommy Wingels – Melker Karlsson

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones
Aaron Dell

Jets
Nikolaj Ehlers – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler 
Mathieu Perreault – Bryan Little – Joel Armia 
Shawn Matthias – Adam Lowry – Drew Stafford 
Andrew Copp – Nic Petan – Chris Thorburn 

Josh Morrissey – Dustin Byfuglien 
Toby Enstrom – Jacob Trouba 
Mark Stuart – Paul Postma 

Michael Hutchinson 
Connor Hellebuyck 

INJURIES

Sharks: Joonas Donskoi (upper body), Dylan DeMelo (broken wrist) and Tomas Hertl (right knee sprain) are out.

Jets: Patrik Laine (concussion), Tyler Myers (lower body), Marko Dano (lower body), and Ben Chiarot (lower body) are out.

QUOTEABLE

“I think the first period we had a couple [chances], but that’s deceiving. I don’t think we were very good from the start of the game.” – Logan Couture, after the Sharks’ 4-0 loss to the Blues on Saturday

All-Star Jones a model of consistency for Sharks: 'He solidifies our team'

All-Star Jones a model of consistency for Sharks: 'He solidifies our team'

SAN JOSE – Like a handful of NHL goaltenders, Martin Jones prefers not to speak to the media on the morning of nights he’s playing. So when the 27-year-old Sharks netminder was named as an All-Star before a game in Edmonton on Tuesday, the media in attendance respected his typical game day routine.

His friends and family, though, may not have been aware of his preference for limited interaction. Congratulations were in order for Jones, who will be a part of the Pacific Division team in Los Angeles for All-Star weekend from Jan. 27-29.

“I was trying to push it to the next day, obviously we had a game that night,” Jones said. “Lots of texts from family and friends. Everyone was pretty excited.”

Jones knew it was a possibility that he might be named. In his second season as the Sharks’ primary starter, and coming off of a brilliant playoff run, he’s tied for fifth in the NHL with 21 wins and his 2.26 goals-against average is ninth. He’ll return to the venue where he started his NHL career as a backup to Jonathan Quick from 2013-15.

Asked for his reaction when he got the news Tuesday morning, which was also his birthday, he said: “I was excited, it’s going to be a fun event. Just going to be really cool to play with all those guys, and it’s kind of fun that it’s in L.A., as well.”

Other than Brent Burns, a case can be made that Jones’ is the Sharks’ most valuable player through the first half. The club hasn’t been scoring goals at its typical rate; rather, it’s been relying on its defensive structure to keep the other team from getting on the board.

That, of course, includes Jones. Although he doesn’t often see many shots, as the Sharks are give up the third-fewest at 27.0, he usually has to make a handful of difficult saves on a nightly basis. That’s a result of Pete DeBoer wanting his club to play an aggressive style, in which defensemen are encouraged to get involved in the offensive end.

“I’d like to think that we’re aggressive and we still don’t give up a lot of chances, but there’s no doubt we give up a handful of quality chances a night,” DeBoer said. “That’s the difference in the games, and [Jones] knows that. He might not get 40 or 50 shots, but he’s going to get 25 and a handful of quality chances. If he can make a couple big saves a night for us, that’s usually the difference.”

Paul Martin said: “I think he solidifies our team in general. When you have him back there to make the easy consistent saves, and stand on his head and make big saves – you need those in critical parts of the game. I think he’s continued just to get better, as well.”

Jones has been much more consistent than the start of last season, when he got off to a scorching start, cooled off in November and December, but was a rock over the second half and in the playoffs.

This season, he posted a 2.15 GAA and .916 SP in October, followed by a 1.96 GAA and .924 SP in November, followed by a 2.24 GAA and .916 SP in December.

That’s consistency, and it’s all an NHL team wants from it’s goaltender. The knowledge that he will be there to make the routine saves with some spectacular ones mixed in gives confidence to the group to just play its game. Jones is doing that.

DeBoer said: “The guys just want to know what to expect every night, and that he’s going to stop the ones that he should stop. That’s all anyone’s looking for, and I think he does that as well as anyone in the league.”

There’s another part of it, too, according to the coach. It’s something that can’t be measured on scoresheets.

“The guys like him,” DeBoer said. “That’s the other part about goaltending that you have to remember, is the guys have to want to play hard for you. He’s a great teammate, and a real popular guy, and the guys want to go the extra mile when he’s in there because of that.”

That’s why on that morning in Edmonton, while Jones was in game-prep mode, his teammates were happy to comment on their goaltender, who they will need to continue to play well over the next three months and beyond. The All-Star nod is the latest evidence that Jones is well on his way to establishing himself as one of the NHL’s best.

“This year with the year he’s had and getting the All-Star nod, it’s nice to see that he’s become a star in this league now,” Joe Thornton said on that chilly morning in Alberta, while Jones was sitting in the corner, unstrapping his pads.