Sharks

Sharks-Wild: What to watch for

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Sharks-Wild: What to watch for

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Kevin Kurz will be chatting with Sharks fans for the hour leading up to the game. Ask our Insider all the pointed questions at 3:30 p.m.! And remember, tonight's game airs on the NBC Sports Network (@NBCSN) at 4:30 p.m.

ST. PAUL Sharks defenseman Brent Burns rubbed some of his former hometown fans the wrong way earlier this season, when he said that he hoped the Wild would lose every game. Burns spent the first seven seasons of his NHL career playing in Minnesota.

Even though that comment was made tongue-in-cheek, Burns seems to be getting his wish. The Wild have dropped 11 of their last 12 games (1-8-3) heading into tonights game at the Xcel Energy Center against the visiting Sharks.

I took a lot of heat for that, but I think its just my competitiveness. Obviously, when they get rid of you, you dont want them to succeed without you, Burns said, before adding that he still has many friends on the Wild hed like to see do well.

The Sharks and Wild have met twice so far, both at HP Pavilion, splitting the first two games. Since they last met, though, a 2-1 Wild win on Dec. 6, Minnesota is just 3-8-3 while the surging Sharks are 9-2-3.

San Jose has points in 11 of its last 12 games overall (8-1-3), including four straight wins.

The league is so tight, every team goes through little swings. Obviously, we did at the start of the year, too, Burns said. Its so hard, every game is so tough and every team is so tight. Its tough to win.

"Right now were fining ways to do it, and Im sure theyre going to find their way, too. Hopefully its not against us, though.

Road journey begins: The Sharks will play 17 of their next 23 games on the road, beginning tonight. Although that stretch is broken up by the All-Star break at the end of this month, thats an intimidating number of games away from the home fans.

Obviously, theyd like to get off on the right foot tonight against Minnesota.

Managing your time, your body, all that stuff will come into play, trying to get your rest, Joe Pavelski said. Getting off to some early success definitely helps.

The Sharks are 9-4-2 on the road, and seem to be excited about the prospect of spending more time together during a grinding part of the season, according to Joe Thornton.

We have a tight bond. Everybody gets along good. I think with us, because we travel so much, it makes guys get along, he said. Were always on 10, 14-day road trips. I think our bond gets closer. We enjoy the road and going out to dinner together, so it makes it that much more fun.

We really enjoy playing at home and it helps with the crowd and stuff, but were going to try and bring our same game and guys are prepared and ready to play on the road, Pavelski said.

San Jose visits Winnipeg, Columbus and Chicago before briefly returning home for two games next week.

Our resiliency will be tested, not only on this trip but heading forward, McLellan said. I think weve already reached that challenging phase, and this is a new chapter within that.

Better when theyre tired? The Sharks recently completed a stretch of four games in six nights, winning all four, and seemed to get better with each passing game. That culminated on Saturday with a 5-2 win over the Washington Capitals in one of the more complete, 60-minute efforts the club has played all season.

Thats not a coincidence to McLellan, who said that the team is better at positional play when it may be a little tired. The trick is carrying that into tonights game with Minnesota after two days off between games.

The thing with our team is when we have a fatigue element or a simple approach to the game we tend to be better, he said. That was four games in six nights for us. We now have fresh legs underneath us, so the trick will be to manage the game the same way we did against Washington. Play situations the same way, be patient, but not on our heels.

Lineup unchanged: By the look of the optional morning skate, the Sharks lineup will remain unchanged from Saturdays win. That means Andrew Murray and Frazer McLaren are out, and Antti Niemi will start in goal.

Defensemen Colin White and Jim Vandermeer remain on injured reserve. White, who has missed the last five games with a lower body injury, is on the road trip, as is James Sheppard.

Torrey Mitchell will look to follow up on his strong performance against the Capitals, when he finished with an empty-net goal and an assist. Mitchell was a healthy scratch against Columbus in the Sharks previous game.

Niemi vs. Harding: The Sharks will go with Niemi in net, who will be opposed by the Wilds Josh Harding.

In five career starts against the Wild, including two this season, Niemi is 4-1 with a 1.61 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. Harding has struggled vs. San Jose, with an 0-1 record, 5.90 goals-against average and .864 save percentage in two games.
Odds and ends: Minnesota will be without Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who will be out indefinitely with a concussion, the team announced on Tuesday. Tonights game is a national broadcast on the NBC Sports Network (4:30 p.m. PST). The Wild are 2-2-2 in their last six home games. Patrick Marleau has a five-game point streak (2g, 5a). Jason Demers has a goal and three assists in his last three games. The Wild are 29th in the league in goals per game, with just 2.19. Only Los Angeles has fewer (2.09).

Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are

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USATSI

Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are

The difference between a 2-3-0 start and a 1-4-0 start is bigger than two standings points.

The former is far from ideal, but if you squint hard enough, there's enough wiggle room to improve. There's still time with the latter, too, but the margin for error is much thinner moving forward.

The Sharks experienced that difference firsthand after Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. It's not an ideal record, but they’ve managed to salvage a poor start. 

There are still some flaws, to be sure. The power play isn't just the Kevin Labanc show after the top unit scored all three power play goals Tuesday, but is still carrying a disproportionate offensive load. The penalty kill’s scoreless streak came to an end, but they were called into action six times.

Despite all that, Tuesday's win was San Jose’s best effort this season. Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Joe Thornton all had multi-point games for the first time this year. Martin Jones had another strong game, and appears to have shaken off his slow start.

In short, San Jose’s game is headed in the right direction. It needs to be, with a five-game road trip beginning on Friday. 

Now comes the hard part.

It's on the road where we’ll get our best sense of who this team really is. Peter DeBoer won’t have the benefit of last change, and won't be able to dictate matchups. 

Under these circumstances, we’ll begin to really see if Joakim Ryan is ready for a top-four role, whether Kevin Labanc is a viable first-line winger, and how the rest of the young reinforcements stack up. They will have less time off, too, as all but one game occurs after one day (or less) of rest and travel. That missed practice time isn't ideal for any team, let alone one still trying to work out the kinks.

Fortunately, the competition is forgiving, at least on paper. Other than the Devils, none of the Sharks’ four other road trip opponents have winning records as of this writing. The topsy turvy nature of the standings, though, show how little “on paper” means this early in the season.

We’ll know a lot more about who these San Jose Sharks are by the time their road trip ends. Their record still won't tell the whole story, but by then, they'll have played about an eighth of the season. 

And by then, we’ll have a much better idea of how good this team really is.

Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens

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AP

Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE — Logan Couture credited a teammate for scoring his second goal. He took credit for the first one.

Couture scored a pair of goals and the San Jose Sharks extended their dominance of the Montreal Canadiens with a 5-2 victory on Tuesday night.

Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl also scored for the Sharks, who have won the past 11 home games against the Canadiens, a streak that dates to Nov. 23, 1999.

On a power play late in the third period, rookie Tim Heed took a shot off a face-off that bounced free in front of the net. Pavelski couldn't get his stick on it but managed to kick it across the net for Couture, who found a huge opening.

"That was pretty special," Couture said. "I don't know if he knew I was there but he kept his balance and kicked it over."

Couture opened the scoring 3:30 into the first period, grabbing a rebound off the back board, skating across the front of the net to get Price to commit and then firing into an open net.

Jonathan Drouin and Shea Weber scored for the Canadiens, who are winless since an opening night victory at the Buffalo Sabres.

"It's a very poor start from our team, from myself, from a lot of individuals," Canadiens' Max Pacioretty said. "It's a good time to look in the mirror and see what we're made of because a lot of people are probably doubting this team right now."

Martin Jones stopped 28 of 30 shots for the Sharks, who finish their season-opening homestand with a 2-3 record.

"The biggest thing is finding that energy for the whole game," Jones said. "We started OK and then we got better as the night went on."

Carey Price, who stopped 31 of 35 shots, fell to 2-7-1 in 10 games against the Sharks.

The Canadiens responded 36 seconds later when Drouin picked up a pass from Artturi Lehkonen close in and fired it over Jones' left shoulder and into the net.

Pavelski gave the Sharks the lead for good when he redirected Kevin Labanc's shot just under a minute into the second period. The shot hit Weber's left shin pad and bounced into the net.

"There were a lot of good things out there," Pavelski said. "We didn't have the homestand we wanted but we can leave on a positive note to take on the road."

Hertl padded the lead midway through the second on a power play. Standing on the right side of the net, he was trying to control a pass from Joe Thornton but the puck fluttered off his stick and got behind Price.

"I'll take it any way I can get it," Hertl said. "There are times I've had great shots that just bounced off the post."

Weber's power-play goal two minutes later kicked off Jones' skates for the score.

The Sharks needed five seconds to score on a power play late in the second period. Tim Heed shot on goal and it bounced off Pavelski's skate. Couture picked it up and found a huge opening.

NOTES: After allowing three power play goals over their first five penalty kills, the Sharks killed off 14 straight until Weber scored in the second period. ... Couture recorded his 24th career multi-goal game. ... Sharks D Tim Heed recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Couture's power-play goal. ... Brendan Gallagher needs one assist for 100 with the Canadiens.

UP NEXT:

Canadiens: plays at the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday in their second back-to-back of the season.

Sharks: open a five-game road trip on the east coast with a game at the New Jersey Devils on Friday.