McLellan: Sharks 'had the will to keep fighting'
The Ducks have been the second most injury-cursed team in the league, yet have 61 points and sit atop the NHL standings. (USATSI)
Programming note: Sharks-Ducks coverage gets underway at 7:00 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live, only on Comcast SportsNet California
SAN JOSE – If the Sharks need an example of how a team can be successful while dealing with a multitude of injures, they need only look to their Pacific Division rivals to the south.
Despite 196 man-games lost to injuries, the second-highest total in the league, the Anaheim Ducks (28-7-5, 61 points) are at the top of the NHL standings.
“Guys picking up slack with injuries has been one of the keys to their success,” Dan Boyle said.
The Sharks remain without four of their regular forwards in Adam Burish, Raffi Torres, Tomas Hertl and Marty Havlat. Only Havlat’s lower body injury is thought to be short term.
At even-strength, San Jose has been reliant on its top line during a three-game winning streak, all in a shootout. The trio of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns has generated five of the team’s six goals during five-on-five play, while a resurgent power play is three-for-10 over that span.
The Sharks will go with a new look on three of their four forward lines against the Ducks on Sunday night. Matt Nieto will play with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau on the second line. A third line will see the recently recalled Bracken Kearns centering James Sheppard and Tommy Wingels, while the fourth line looks to the Andrew Desjardins, Mike Brown and either Tyler Kennedy or John McCarthy.
Todd McLellan was asked what he wants to see from his bottom six forwards, specifically.
“It’s a big test, with where we’re at with our lineup, and juggling people around,” he said.
“We can look at it from an offensive perspective – can they provide us some offense and create some scoring opportunities? If that is minimum, can they prevent and be active in the D-zone to create momentum going the other way? When we’re playing well as a team we have that ability. We do believe that those players can do that, it’s a matter of it coming out.”
Finding those right combinations could be an ongoing process, as the Hertl injury in particular has thrown a monkey wrench into the forward group. Burish and Torres have yet to even play this season, and Havlat hasn't given them much even when he's healthy.
“We’re experimenting right now with our group. Can Bracken Kearns come in and contribute with four regular forwards out of our lineup? What are we going to get from these people? You often find players in those situations," McLellan said.
On the other side, the Ducks are one of the deepest teams in the league, and Saturday night’s win over Phoenix was a good example. Their top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Dustin Penner was shut down, but Anaheim got two goals from Saku Koivu and another from Andrew Cogliano in a 3-2 overtime win over the Coyotes.
“Of course they’ve got that [Getzlaf] line that has to garner most of the attention, but on nights – and there aren’t many of them – where they are not as sharp as they need to be, they’ve been able to be picked up by the other three lines,” McLellan said.
Boyle said: “They just find ways to win every night. … Different guys find ways to do the job for them.”
The Sharks (24-8-6, 54 points) enter Sunday trailing Anaheim by seven points for the division lead, with two games in hand. Having some success on Sunday, and in Tuesday’s rematch at the Honda Center, is paramount if the Sharks want to remain within striking distance of the division lead.
Putting an end to Anaheim’s franchise record 10-game winning streak would be nice, too, but that’s not a focal point, according to Boyle.
The Sharks just need the win.
“We’ll have our meeting when we get here, but we’re aware of how well they’re playing. We just want to win a game, whether they’ve won 10 or lost 10,” Boyle said.
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Antti Niemi will start for the Sharks. The Ducks' Jonas Hiller could be getting the night off after playing on Saturday, as backup Frederik Anderson was the first goalie off for the optional morning skate.
Anderson is 9-1-0 with a 1.87 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in 10 games. He's never faced the Sharks.
Niemi, who got his 20th win in Phoenix on Friday, is 8-7-0 with a 2.41 GAA and .907 SP in 15 career games against Anaheim.