Sharks-Capitals: What to watch for


Sharks-Capitals: What to watch for

SAN JOSE Now that NHL realignment has been postponed for at least a year, there are no guarantees that Alex Ovechkin will make an appearance here at HP Pavilion in the 2012-13 season.

The superstar Capitals forward is here tonight, though, and will try to help his team win in San Jose for the first time since 1993. Washington brings a four-game overall winning streak into the game, and Ovechkin has led the way with 11 points in his last seven games (7g, 4a), including four consecutive two-point efforts.

They have a number of superstars and you cant zero in on any on individual, although, hes the kingpin there, Todd McLellan said of Ovechkin on Saturday morning. Hes the guy that pulls the trigger and makes things happen.

The Sharks will likely try and get Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic out against Ovechkins line, which includes Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer as much as possible.

Its fun. I enjoy playing against the top guys. Ive said that before, Boyle said. He sees good matchups every night, so its nothing new for him. Hes playing real well right now so hopefully well get the job done defensively.

Ovechkins take: While the Sharks were busy talking about how dangerous Ovechkin is on the ice, the man himself knows that the Capitals have 10 losses and one tie since their last win at HP Pavilion, and have lost 14 of 15 overall since the start of the 1999-2000 season.

Its always nice to have a winning streak and you always want to continue what youre doing. But, its a hard building for us to play in and win here, in I dont know how many years, Ovechkin said. We just have to not think about it and play a little better than we played a couple years ago.

In seven career games against the Sharks, Ovechkin has four goals and two assists.

What do the Caps need to do to beat the Sharks?

We dont play a lot against these guys so we just have to play our game and play most of the time in their zone and not ours, because they have pretty good skilled guys and use our mistakes to get chances," Ovechkin said.

Mitchells return: Sharks forward Torrey Mitchell appears set to return tonight after a one-game absence. Mitchell was healthy-scratched on Thursday night in the Sharks 2-1 win over Columbus.

At Saturdays morning skate, he was on the wing with Michal Handzus and Jamie McGinn. McLellan explained what went down with the 26-year-old forward.

I talked to Torrey, and he gave me all the answers that I needed. He explained to me what his strengths were as a player and what his assets were that he thought he needed to bring to the table on a nightly basis, said the coach. It was a pretty simple conversation; I didnt even need to say anything. You have to give him credit for very good self-evaluation. Sometimes players dont see it like that.

The Sharks fourth line will likely be Brad Winchester, Andrew Desjardins and Tommy Wingels, making Andrew Murray the odd man out.

Niemi vs. Vokoun: After watching from the bench for the first time in more than a month, Antti Niemi will return tonight to face the Capitals. Thomas Greiss got the start and the win against Columbus on Thursday, after Niemi had started the previous 13 games.

In three games against Washington, Niemi is a solid 2-0-1 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.

While those numbers sound pretty darn good, Washington expected starter Tomas Vokouns run against the Sharks is even more impressive. In his last 11 starts against San Jose, Vokoun is 10-0-1 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .932 save percentage and one shutout. His last regulation loss against the Sharks came on Dec. 23, 2003 when he was still with the Nashville Predators.

Odds and ends: Washington forward Nicklas Backstrom is out with an injury. After tonight, 17 of the Sharks next 23 games are on the road. The Capitals have a 14 goal differential in the third period. Washington has nine 4-on-4 goals, the most in the NHL. Capitals defenseman John Carlson leads NHL defensemen with 44 giveaways. Brent Burns is second with 43. ... San Jose visits Washington on Feb. 13.

Time is now for Sharks to experiment with new lines


Time is now for Sharks to experiment with new lines

The San Jose Sharks were shut out for the first time this season on Thursday night, but it sure didn't feel like it.

You’d be forgiven, albeit mistaken, if you didn't think the loss was their first goose egg of the season. San Jose’s been one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league this year, and has scored two or fewer goals in all but two of their six games in November.

The Sharks controlled play, but their raw possession numbers were misleading: Through the first two periods, San Jose was outshot 23-18, and poured it on in the third looking for the game-tying goal.

In order to break out of his team’s extended slump, head coach Peter DeBoer appeared to throw his lines in the proverbial blender. The changes weren't very significant, though, as DeBoer worked mostly around the edges.

Joe Thornton remained with Joe Pavelski, while Melker Karlsson and Timo Meier rotated in on their wing. Joonas Donskoi swapped in with Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, and on and on.

The core pair of each line remained intact, while DeBoer swapped complimentary wingers. Subtle changes, unsurprisingly, didn't lead to drastically different results.

He’s been amenable to bigger changes at times, briefly breaking up longtime linemates Thornton and Pavelski last Sunday against Los Angeles. The bottom six, especially the fourth line, has mostly been a revolving door.

That's a start, but far from enough. 

As long as the Sharks struggle to score, similarly significant changes are in order.

DeBoer shouldn't want to sacrifice the team’s defensive dominance, or its strong possession game. But, the Sharks haven't scored enough through 17 games to justify using the same forward combinations. 

In Thornton and Pavelski’s case, those struggles date back to last season. For just about everyone else, the sample size is getting increasingly more significant as the season approaches the quarter pole.

The Sharks bench boss expressed a willingness to mix up his power play units earlier this week, and needs to do the same at even strength. It's time to try Pavelski on Couture's wing, Meier on Thornton's, or any number of permutations.

Tweaking around the edges hasn't made much of a difference, so far more comprehensive adjustments are not only welcome, but necessary. Of course, DeBoer may not find the perfect lineup solutions.

At this point, though, it's worth a shot. It's hard to imagine the Sharks scoring any less than they have so far this season, and the Sharks need to explore if any line changes can provide a remedy.

Luongo picks up a career first in Panthers win over Sharks


Luongo picks up a career first in Panthers win over Sharks


SAN JOSE — Roberto Luongo made 35 saves for his 74th career shutout and the Florida Panthers blanked the San Jose Sharks 2-0 Thursday night on goals by Colton Sceviour and Nick Bjugstad.

Florida coach Bob Boughner won in his return to San Jose. He served as an assistant coach for the Sharks the last two years.

Luongo earned his first shutout of the season and first in 32 games against San Jose.

Martin Jones was nearly as good for the Sharks. He stopped 26 shots, but that wasn't enough to keep the Panthers from winning for the seventh time in their last eight trips to San Jose.

Sharks defenseman Tim Heed had a goal disallowed on a coach's challenge a little less than five minutes into the second period. Replays showed he came into contact with the puck just behind the blue line, making the play offside.

San Jose had another goal overturned after a replay review. Brent Burns took a hard shot that Luongo nearly caught but couldn't handle and it bounced along his pads. Marc-Edouard Vlasic was one of three Sharks trying to poke at the puck and he used his stick to push both the puck and Luongo's pad into the net.

Sceviour scored a minute into the second after digging out the puck along the boards behind the net. He skated around the cage and poked a shot that hit Jones' pads. He took a second shot that got over the goalie's pads and went in.

Sceviour has four points in six games since returning from injury. He had two points in his first six games this season.

The Panthers, who have won three of four, added an insurance goal with less than eight minutes remaining. Radim Vrbata intercepted a pass in the Sharks zone and played it to Jamie McGinn, who got Jones to commit before dishing to Bjugstad for the score.

NOTES: Panthers C Michael Haley received a warm ovation from Sharks fans. He played in San Jose the last couple of years. ... Sharks D Paul Martin missed his 15th game with a lower-body injury, though he has been skating pain-free for the past two weeks. ... Florida center Vincent Trocheck has 12 points in his last 10 games. ... The Sharks have not scored on their past 15 power plays.


Panthers: At the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.

Sharks: Host the Boston Bruins on Saturday.