DETROIT – There were no special back room meetings or speeches from the head coach to forwards Joe Thornton, Brent Burns and Marty Havlat following the Sharks’ 4-0 loss in Columbus on Tuesday.
Each of those players saw a season-low in ice time in that game, but all are veteran players that don’t have to be told any further that they have to be better.
“I don’t go and pull them aside and say ‘your minutes were cut back because of this or that.’ They know, and they knew exactly why,” Todd McLellan said.
Thornton said: “Just a couple turnovers, and you’re sitting on the bench. I thought we were playing pretty well up until that point, and sometimes you have a hiccup.”
Thornton himself was particularly bad, as his misplays led to a couple of Blue Jackets goals. The Sharks captain is still the club’s leading scorer with 35 points, but he’s scoreless in his last three games, something that hasn’t happened since Jan. 31 – Feb. 9 when he didn’t record a point in five straight.
“The best example of it, and I’m glad that it happened, is Jumbo took some responsibility for his game. I knew he would,” McLellan said, referring to Thornton’s postgame comments. “Now, he’s got to turn it into a good run here. He’s been a great player for us throughout the whole season and he’s in a bit of a rugged stretch here, but he’ll get through it.”
Havlat will also have to improve. The winger returned from a lower body injury on March 18 and had four points in his first four games. Since then, he has just three points (1g, 2a) in the last eight. He has just 13 points in 32 games this season, far below what is expected of him.
He was asked if he thinks he’s getting enough scoring chances lately.
“I think so. The last few games a couple times the puck was just standing on the goal line and just a couple rebounds go into the goalie,” Havlat said. “I actually feel pretty good lately. I’m getting some chances at the net, but nothing is going in. I just have to keep trying, and eventually it’s going to start going in sooner or later.”
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The Red Wings, like Columbus on Tuesday, are fighting for their playoff lives. Detroit (19-15-5, 43 points) sits in eighth place in the Western Conference, just one point ahead of ninth place Phoenix and two points better than the Stars and Blue Jackets.
The Sharks (20-12-7, 47 points) are also no lock to make the postseason, either, although their chances greatly improved with a recent 6-0-1 homestand.
“We’re in a good position, and we control our destiny. If we win we get in, and if we don’t we don’t,” Thornton said. “Each game is important and we know they’re behind us by four points, so it’s a huge game for them.”
Red Wings winger Dan Cleary said: “The game is huge. It’s going to be like a playoff game.”
Detroit coach Mike Babcock is taking a page out of McLellan’s recent playbook and altering his lines. Valtteri Filipulla is expected to center the third line, while Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen are in the middle of the top two lines. The Red Wings have just nine goals in their last six games, and were shut out by St. Louis on Sunday, 1-0, in their most recent match.
“We’re just looking to spark something to get our team to score more goals,” Babcock said.
He also mentioned how strong the Sharks are down the middle since moving Joe Pavelski to the third line center position.
“The big thing for us is they’ve got three lines that I think have real good centers,” Babcock said.
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The Sharks' power play has gone dry in the last three games, going a combined 0-for-7 over that span. The top unit of Thornton, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle and Joe Pavelski has just one goal in the last four games.
McLellan mentioned that the Sharks have failed to win faceoffs in the offensive zone while on a man advantage, and are not shooting the puck enough.
“A lot of times we look good doing nothing,” said the head coach.
On the road, San Jose is just 5-for-66 in the last 17 games away from HP Pavilion. The Sharks have scored 30.4 percent of their goals on the power play; only the Oilers and Flyers have a greater percentage.
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There’s a good chance defenseman Matt Tennyson will return to the lineup in place of Jason Demers.
If he does play, the 22-year-old rookie has had some success at Joe Louis Arena. In two games here, Tennyson has two goals and two assists while competing for Western Michigan University in the CCHA championship game in 2011 and 2012. Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser was also on the team, and is expected to play his third career NHL game tonight.
Tennyson has two assists and a +1 rating in three games since he was recalled from Worcester.
TJ Galiardi, whose status was in question after he didn’t practice on Wednesday, should be fine to play. Scott Gomez is also expected to return to the lineup after he was a healthy scratch against the Blue Jackets.