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POSTED ON Saturday, 03.03.2012 / 3:17 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

McLellan still suffering concussion symptoms

SAN JOSE – San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan will likely miss his third straight game Saturday night against St. Louis because of a concussion, but he said he’s “feeling better every day” and expects to be back behind the bench “very soon.”

The Sharks, though, should have leading goal scorer Logan Couture back in the lineup after missing two games with a lower-body injury. And there’s a chance top-six defenseman Douglas Murray will return. He has missed eight games since being hit in the Adam’s apple with a puck against Tampa Bay.

“I still have some moments that aren’t real good,” McLellan said after the Sharks morning skate at HP Pavilion, talking to reporters for the first time since being hit in the head by a stick during Sunday’s game at Minnesota.

“I can tell you I have a much better appreciation for head injuries,” McLellan said. “I was one of those guys that stated that we probably all played with them, we’ve all had them in the past. But until you really get cracked and feel the way I’ve felt over the last five or six days -- you tend to lose that opinion quickly and maybe appreciate a little bit more what a lot of these players have gone through.”

McLellan said he is still suffering “typical concussion symptoms.”

“There’s times where I feel really good, and then a lot of the motion and movement makes it hard for one to focus a little bit,” he explained. “But I am getting better every day.”

McLellan was on the ice Friday and conducted San Jose’s practice.

“I felt really good in the morning and didn’t feel that good after practice,” McLellan said.

McLellan said he doesn’t remember getting hit by the stick of Minnesota Wild defenseman Marco Scandella, but remembers everything before and soon after that incident.

“A coach takes that risk a lot, trainers do,” McLellan said. “Your focus often isn’t on the puck, it’s on people around you and what’s happening. Trainers are getting skates and gloves, and you’re not always paying attention. For the most part you usually can get your hands up and protect yourself. That was a situation where I couldn’t.”

After taking practice off on Friday, Couture took part in the entire optional skate Saturday morning.

“I think I’m in,” Courture said. “We’ll see when I get to the rink, but felt good in morning skate. Obviously we didn’t do any line rushes or anything like that, but felt pretty good. So we’ll see what happens when I come to the rink. Hopefully I’m ready to play. … I felt pretty good out on the ice. Another day’s rest definitely helped.”

Murray was one of the first defensemen off the ice Saturday morning, a sign that he’ll likely be in the lineup, although he said he was waiting to hear if he has been “officially” cleared by team doctors to play.

“I guess that I’ll be playing pretty soon,” Murray said.

When he returns, Murray will have added protection in the front of his shoulder pads to help shield his throat. The concern has been that if he gets hit in the same area again it will cause dangerous swelling that could affect his breathing.
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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 4:42 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Sharks minus coach again, could get Couture back

SAN JOSE -- San Jose forward Dominic Moore will return to the lineup Thursday night against Buffalo after missing four games with a lower-body injury, but injured forward Logan Couture will be a game-time decision, and Sharks coach Todd McLellan will definitely miss his second straight game.

McLellan is still suffering concussion-like symptoms after being struck in the head Sunday by the stick of Minnesota Wild defenseman Marco Scandella in a freak accident after Scandella was checked into the boards in front of San Jose's bench.

Sharks assistant coaches Matt Shaw and Jay Woodcroft will again share the coaching duties Thursday night, as they did Tuesday night during a 1-0 win against Philadelphia. Woodcroft, though, said McLellan remains "very involved" in the game planning and preparation.

"He's getting better each and every day," Woodcroft said after the Sharks' morning skate. "He's feeling better, and both Matt and I consult him every day. We're in touch with him. He's coming into the building and being a big part of our game plan.

"He's getting better, so that's the primary concern of not only Matt and myself, but the whole organization, is to get Todd better. He's getting better, which is very positive. I think you saw our team's response in the last game. They knew we were missing our leader, but our leadership group in terms of players really stepped up. Bottom line is we're in a playoff hunt, and every two points is important. You saw that against Philadelphia, and we're definitely going to bring the same attitude tonight."

Sharks coach Joe Thornton said many players on the team understand first-hand what McLellan is going through as he recovers from a blow to the head.

"He's going to come back when he feels comfortable behind the bench," Thornton said. "I'm sure the lights still give him problems and the sounds. A lot of guys in here have gone through concussions, and you never know how long they're going to last. We just hope he gets back quick."

After coming to the Sharks on Feb. 16 from Tampa Bay in a trade, Moore played just three games before being sidelined.

Moore said he's "feeling good" and is ready to return to the lineup after a "very frustrating" stint off the ice.

"You never want to be missing time, and you want to be helping the team as much as you can," Moore said. "It was very tough, but I'm excited to be back, back in action."

Couture, San Jose's leading goal scorer, missed the Philadelphia game with a lower-body injury he suffered Sunday at Minnesota, where he took three hard hits. He skated briefly with his teammates Thursday morning before heading to the dressing room.

"Logan made some progress today, felt a lot better," Woodcroft said. "It will be a game-time decision today."

Two other injured Sharks -- forward Martin Havlat and defenseman Douglas Murray -- practiced with the full team for the first time since being injured. Havlat suffered a partially torn hamstring tendon on Dec. 17 against Edmonton and underwent surgery. Murray took a puck to his Adam's apple on Feb. 16 against Tampa Bay.

Havlat and Murray are both making strides, but neither one knows when he'll return to action. Havlat, though, said he definitely wants to log some games before the playoffs.

"The more the better. I have to get used to everything again," Havlat said. "It's like getting ready for a new season. Same situation I was in when I was coming back after the shoulder injury. I want to play as many games as I can to get ready, physically and timing-wise, too."

Havlat said he faces some challenges before he's game-ready.

"I've got to get stronger and get used to the movements on the ice, all those quick movements and the stop and starts, that's the most important during the game and that's (what) I have to work on," he said.

Murray has been skating hard, but has yet to be cleared to play by doctors. The No. 1 concern is that he might experience swelling that would affect his breathing.

"It felt good, but you know how it goes when it comes to your head or breathing," Murray said. "They're a lot more careful. … It's day to day, and hopefully I'll be out there soon."

Murray wore extra padding to protect his throat during the morning skate and expects to wear it when he returns to action.

"I've worn worse things that bother me a lot more than this to protect from injuries," Murray said. "It's not a problem."
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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 4:40 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Sharks, Sabres

SAN JOSE -- Here's how the lineups could look Thursday night when the San Jose Sharks face the Buffalo Sabres at HP Pavilion:

SHARKS
Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Daniel Winnik - Logan Couture - Ryane Clowe
TJ Galiardi - Dominic Moore - Tommy Wingels
Brad Winchester - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Dan Boyle
Jason Demers - Brent Burns
Colin White - Justin Braun

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

Niemi, coming off a 1-0 shutout of Philadelphia on Tuesday night, was the first Sharks goalie off the ice Thursday morning and is expected to start against Buffalo. If Couture is scratched again tonight, the Sharks would have their choice of Andrew Desjardins, Benn Ferriero or Jim Vandermeer to insert in the lineup.  His absence, of course, would force some line juggling. Against Philadelphia, Thornton, Clowe and Wingels were on the top line, while Marleau, Pavelski and Winnik were on the second line.

SABRES

Thomas Vanek - Derek Roy - Jason Pominville
Tyler Ennis - Cody Hodgson - Drew Stafford
Nathan Gerbe - Ville Leino - Patrick Kaleta
Matt Ellis - Brad Boyes - Corey Tropp

Jordan Leopold - Tyler Myers
Andrej Sekera - Robyn Regehr
Christian Ehrhoff - Mike Weber

Ryan Miller
Jhonas Enroth

The Sabres, who beat Anaheim 2-0 on Wednesday night, did not skate Thursday morning. There's no official word on who will be in goal for Buffalo, but the fact that Miller shut out the Ducks points to him getting the start against San Jose.


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POSTED ON Tuesday, 02.28.2012 / 5:26 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Lower-body injury leaves Couture game-time decision

SAN JOSE -- San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture, who leads the team with 27 goals, will be a game-time decision Tuesday night against Philadelphia because of a lower-body injury he suffered Sunday at Minnesota.

Couture took three huge hits against the Wild and left the ice for good midway through the second period. He skated briefly Tuesday morning, without pads, but was not on the ice for the rest of the morning skate.

"It felt good to get on the ice," Couture said. "I didn't feel that bad. There's a chance I could play tonight."

On Sunday against Minnesota, Couture's head banged against the glass at least twice, but it's a lower-body injury that's the main problem.

"I think all three (hits) really built up, and the last one, my body was hurting," Couture said. "I really didn't want to come back in the game. I got a couple days of rest. Yesterday, rested and treated it. Today as well. It definitely feels a lot better than it did the other day at the game."

Couture said he didn't think Minnesota was targeting him specifically or trying to take him out of the game, and he said "there was nothing wrong" with any of the hits he took.

"Guys were finishing checks," Couture said. "That's hockey. You expect to get hit every night. I definitely didn't feel they were only hitting me out there. They were hitting other guys, too.’"

The Sharks, coming off a 2-6-1 road trip, could definitely use Couture tonight against Philadelphia when they open a four-game homestand.

With or without Couture, the Sharks hope to get a boost from forwards Daniel Winnik and TJ Galiardi, who will make their debuts after being traded from Colorado to San Jose on Monday.

"That's what we're hoping," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said after the morning skate. "We definitely think we've got the pieces in here to make a good run. We just feel like the two new guys are definitely going to help that out."

Winnik said he hopes that he and Galiardi can energize the Sharks.

"When you get traded you bring new excitement with yourself, and hopefully TJ and I inject some energy into the lineup," Winnik said.

During the morning skate, Winnik was on the second line with Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski. Galiardi skated on the third line with Michael Handzus and Torrey Mitchell. Ryane Clowe and Tommy Wingels skated on the top line with Thornton.

That's likely how they'll open tonight's game unless Couture is able to play.

The road-weary Sharks will face a Flyers team that is playing the final game of a four-game road trip but hasn't played since Saturday when it beat Calgary 5-4 in a shootout.

"A couple days in California isn't bad for the body or the mind," Flyers winger Scott Hartnell said. "We had a good practice yesterday, a good skate this morning. Even though we're all the way across the country, we've got to play hard and not focus on getting back home."

Hartnell, who played six seasons in Nashville, has been to the Shark Tank enough times to know how tough San Jose is to beat at home.

"This is a tough building to play in," Harnell said. "The fans are incredible and they feed off that energy. So it's going to be a big battle for us. It's going to be a big test for us tonight to come out, come hard. Hopefully we get a lead. It seems like we haven't had a lead in the first period for three months."

The Flyers haven't beaten the Sharks in San Jose since Nov. 5, 1999. Their last victory over San Jose was on Dec. 21, 2000, in Philadelphia.

Hartnell is coming off a two-goal game against Calgary and has a career-high 30 goals for the season. He credited “a lot of hard work” for his career year, as well as the chance to skate with teammates such as Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr.

“It’s a lot who you’re playing with and power play time and things like that,” Hartnell said. “I’ve been really focused, trying to be focused for every practice, every game. Just trying to do what I do best, and that’s go to the net. Playing with Giroux and Jagr, you put your stick on the ice, pucks are going to find your stick. It’s been a real treat playing with those guys.”

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 02.28.2012 / 5:24 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Sharks, Flyers

SAN JOSE -- Here's how the lineups could look tonight when the San Jose Sharks face the Philadelphia Flyers at HP Pavilion:

SHARKS
Ryane Clowe - Joe Thornton - Tommy Wingels
Daniel Winnik - Patrick Marleau - Joe Pavelski
TJ Galiardi - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell
Brad Winchester - Andrew Desjardins - Jim Vandermeer

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Dan Boyle
Jason Demers - Brent Burns
Colin White - Justin Braun

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

Niemi, who came off the ice first Tuesday morning, is expected to be in goal tonight. He backed up Greiss on Sunday at Minnesota. In two of his three previous starts he was pulled in the first period after allowing three goals. Center Dominic Moore (lower body) took part in the morning skate and appears close to returning, but he'll miss his fourth straight game.

FLYERS
Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Maxime Talbot - Danny Briere - Wayne Simmonds
James van Riemsdyk - Brayden Schenn - Jakub Voracek
Matt Read - Sean Couturier - Zac Rinaldo

Kimmo Timonen - Braydon Coburn
Pavel Kubina - Matt Carle
Andrej Meszaros - Nicklas Grossman

Ilya Bryzgalov
Sergei Bobrovsky

Bryzgalov, coming off a 5-4 shootout win over Calgary on Saturday, will be in goal again for the Flyers. He's 22-12-6 overall with a 2.82 goals-against average and a .898 save percentage.

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 02.28.2012 / 3:08 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

No McLellan for Sharks tonight

SAN JOSE -- San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan will miss Tuesday's game against Philadelphia (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) because of concussion-like symptoms he's still suffering from after accidentally being hit in the head with a stick during the second period of Sunday's game against Minnesota, the team announced.

As they did for the remainder of that game against the Wild, assistants Matt Shaw and Jay Woodcroft will share the coaching duties.

"Todd continues to make progress in his recovery from the stick incident in Minnesota on Sunday evening but is still experiencing concussion-like symptoms," Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson said in a statement released by the team. "Thus, he will not be behind the bench until cleared by doctors to resume his coaching duties, beginning with tonight's game against the Philadelphia Flyers. While Todd will continue to provide his input on the team, we have full confidence in the abilities of assistant coaches Matt Shaw and Jay Woodcroft to lead the team in Todd's absence. Our main concern at this point is for Todd's full and complete recovery."

McLellan was hurt when forward Jamie McGinn -- who was traded Monday to Colorado -- checked Minnesota defenseman Marco Scandella into the boards alongside the Sharks' bench. Scandella's stick made contact with McLellan's forehead, knocking the coach down behind the bench.

Sharks captain Joe Thornton said McLellan was knocked out.

"He wasn't moving," Thornton said. "We were yelling to the ref, 'There's a problem here.' It was one of the strangest things I've ever seen, that's for sure."

Thornton said he wasn't surprised at the news that McLellan would miss the game.

"He was hit pretty hard," said Thornton. "We saw him a little bit today. He's gotten better, so that's a good sign. But, yeah, he got hit real hard."

McLellan missed one game last season to attend a funeral of a family member. Shaw, Woodcroft and former Sharks assistant Trent Yawney shared coaching duties in that game, Woodcroft said Tuesday after San Jose's morning skate. Yawney no longer is with the team.

"In that case, Trent Yawney ran our defense and Matt and I ran the forwards like we did last year," Woodcroft said. "And for us, this year going forward, we're going to stick with that precedent. I'm going to run the forwards, which I've worked with during the season, and Matt will continue running the (defense).

Woodcroft said he expects that plan to work smoothly tonight.

"Our staff has been with this group for four years," he said. "There's a lot of trust with our leadership group. We understand where we're at in our season. We expect everybody's best effort. Todd has spoken to our leadership group, so they know it's coming, and there's a real comfort level. They know what to expect, and we're going to expect a strong effort tonight."
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POSTED ON Friday, 02.10.2012 / 5:22 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Reeling Blackhawks lose a pair of defensemen

SAN JOSE -- The Chicago Blackhawks, riding a six-game losing streak and a deep defensive slump, got some more bad news Friday morning.

Steve Montador and Niklas Hjalmarsson, two of the Blackhawks' top defensive players, were sent back to Chicago because of upper-body injuries and will miss Friday night's game against the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion.

Montador, who was hurt in the second period Tuesday against Colorado, was placed on injured reserve. Coach Joel Quenneville said Hjalmarsson has been ruled out for Saturday's game at Phoenix.  Hjalmarsson had missed the previous two days of practice with what the Blackhawks said was the flu but, according to multiple reports, could actually be a concussion.

"Things changed," Quenneville said, offering no specifics.

Chicago recalled rookie defenseman Dylan Olsen from Rockford of the American Hockey League. He didn't arrive in time for Friday morning's skate, but he's expected to arrive in time for the game and will be in the lineup Friday night, Quenneville said. So will defenseman Sami Lepisto, who has been a healthy scratch the past 15 and 23 of the past 24 games.

"I think Sami can give us some defensive consistency," Quenneville said. "He's got some offense, as well, to back it up. I want him to play a sound game, kind of like our team game."

Quenneville offered no specific reason why Lepisto has played so seldom.

"When you've got eight 'D' sometimes you've got to make some tough decisions," he said. "Whether it's him or John Scott, they want to play. You've got to commend them for sticking with it and being part of it and being a good teammate when they've been watching other guys get more ice time or games that they'd love to get a part of it. I was telling Sami the other day, be patient, things can change quickly, and here he is."

Olsen, 21, made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks on Jan. 5 and played two games before being sent back down. He had four shots, five hits and one blocked shot in that stint. Chicago drafted him with the 28th pick in the 2009 Entry Draft. In 44 games with the IceHogs, he has 4 goals, 3 assists and 44 penalty minutes.

"I think when he played here prior, the two games he played, I thought he was real solid for us," Quenneville said. "Gave us some size. Had some good presence, played the right side for us, did some good things."

The news was much better for San Jose. Defenseman Dan Boyle, who missed Wednesday night's game and Thursday's practice because of the flu, skated Friday morning and expects to return to the lineup against Chicago.

"I feel better," Boyle said. "Obviously I wouldn't be here if I didn't feel better. Stomach flu kind of went through the whole household. My parents were here, they both had it. Both my daughters and my wife had it. Not sure what it was. Ran its course and hopefully back in there tonight."

With Boyle sidelined, the Sharks suffered a 4-3 loss to Calgary, which came on the heels of a 5-3 loss at Phoenix. The Sharks' No. 1 focus tonight will be to get their defense back on track against a Blackhawks team that beat them 4-3 on Jan. 15 at Chicago.

"We know they're a very dynamic offensive team, so we're going to have to look after our end, and usually when we do that good things happen," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "So take care of our end and we'll probably play in their end quite a bit."

Sharks coach Todd McLellan said he expects to see "a different look" from his team Friday night than it had against Calgary.

"We didn't have a lot of intensity or energy early in the game," he said. "We expect that to change, and we weren't very good defensively. Too loose, too many freebies, too many turnovers. If we're playing the way I believe we can, we'll fix those areas and we'll still be in for a tight game because they're a group that's trying to fix their own issues, and I'm sure they'll come out with a lot of fire early in the game, and we'll have to match that."

Despite having back-to-back rough games, Antti Niemi will be in goal to face his former team, McLellan said. Niemi, who helped Chicago win the Stanley Cup two seasons ago, is 4-2-1 against the Blackhawks with a 2.59 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage.

"We think he's played well against them in the past," McLellan said of his decision to start Niemi. "He's due for a good game, and we believe in him."

Niemi certainly won't lack motivation when he takes the ice against a team that let him go in a salary cap move shortly after he won a Stanley Cup.

"You get motivated knowing who you're playing against," Niemi said. "Don't have to dig it from deep."

After losing six straight games and allowing 27 goals during that stretch, the Blackhawks should have motivation to spare, too. For the past two days, they've gone back to the basics, trying to get their defensive house in order.

"There's some little things we need to just remind ourselves of that are very important," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "When things are going well you don't have to think about it. You just go out and do it. Maybe the last couple games we've been thinking a little too much out on the ice and that's why we're making mistakes. It's good just to refresh our mind on what we need to do defensively and now we can go out there and play and it will be a little more natural."

Here's how the lineups could look Friday night when the San Jose Sharks face the Chicago Blackhawks at HP Pavilion:

SHARKS
Benn Ferriero - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Ryane Clowe
Jamie McGinn - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell
Brad Winchester - Andrew Desjardins - John McCarthy

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Dan Boyle
Douglas Murray - Brent Burns
Colin White - Justin Braun

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

BLACKHAWKS
Michael Frolik - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Andrew Shaw
Andrew Brunette - Jamal Mayers - Viktor Stalberg

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Sami Lepisto - Sean O'Donnell
Dylan Olsen - Nick Leddy

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery

Crawford will start in goal for Chicago after backing up Ray Emery the previous two games. Crawford lost 1-0 to the Sharks and Niemi on Nov. 23, Chicago’s first game at HP Pavilion this season.

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 02.08.2012 / 5:48 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Flames' Kiprusoff goes for 300th win

SAN JOSE - As a team fighting for its playoff life, the Calgary Flames will have plenty of motivation Wednesday night against the San Jose Sharks. But the Flames should have an extra boost with goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff going for his 300th career victory -- against his former team.

The Sharks took Kiprusoff with the 116th pick in the 1995 NHL Draft. But with an overload of talent in goal, they traded him to Calgary in November 2003 for a 2005 second-rounder they used to draft defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

"It would be huge," said Calgary defenseman Scott Hannan, a former Shark. "He's a great goalie. Everybody knows what he's done for the franchise and how special a player this year he's been for us. He's been huge in every game that we've needed him to be in. He gives us a chance every night, which is more than you can ask of a goalie. To get him a win here would be great."

Kiprusoff has a career record of 299-194-62 with a 2.45 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage. This year he's 23-17-4 with a 2.29 GAA and a .920 save percentage.

"He's a hell of a goaltender," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said after his team's optional skate Wednesday morning at HP Pavilion. "Fans, not only in San Jose early in his career, but obviously in Calgary for most of it, appreciate his talent and what he brings to the rink every night. I think it's probably fair to say when their players walk into the locker room in Calgary and see his number or name circled, they get a pretty good feeling. And that's a true sign of a goaltender that can carry a team, and he's been that for many years there."

Kiprusoff is 13-12-3 against the Sharks overall, but he's 0-1-1 this season despite playing well both games. The Sharks beat Kiprusoff and the Flames 2-1 in a shootout at HP Pavilion then 1-0 at Calgary.

San Jose's Antti Niemi, a fellow Finn, got both wins, improving to 8-1-0 lifetime against Calgary. Niemi said facing a countryman always gives him an extra dose of motivation.

"Playing Finnish guys, just the veteran goalies who have been in the League for a long time who you remember from a long, long time ago," Niemi said. "So of course you get a little extra energy playing against those guys.''

Based on the past two games, goals should be at a premium Wednesday night. What's more, the Flames have allowed a total of 12 goals over their past seven games as they've turned up the defensive pressure.

"We're certainly playing better defensively that we were earlier," coach Brent Sutter said. "I think it's just more consistent now. It's a commitment that you have to have from every individual inside your dressing room. I understand that guys in the room, or any dressing room, are goal scorers, but when you get into the final third of the season everybody's got to be committed to doing it the right way, back checking like they can and making sure they're doing it the right way in their own zone. You want to have the puck. You've got to be able to play with the puck to win games, and you've got to be able to get it back from your opposition. The only way that happens is by playing a good team game."

Flames forward Blair Jones said the improved defense is "just kind of in direct relation to where we are in the standings and the time" in the season. "It's time to tighten up and start playing good hockey every game. There's no excuses for the next 28, 29 games we have left. It's got to be the same way every night. Just try to pay attention to details and bring a good defensive effort every game."

Sharks forward Ryane Clowe expects another hard-fought, low-scoring game.

"I think if we can get three goals, we've got a good chance. I think we can hold them under three goals," Clowe said. "Lately all their games have been pretty low scoring -- 2-1, 2-0, that sort of game. So if we can put three on the board, I like our chances."

With 55 points, the Flames are in 12th place in the Western Conference standings, but they're just three points behind Minnesota and Phoenix, who are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot. Just as a reminder of how tight the race is and how important each game is, the conference standings were posted in Flames' dressing room at HP on a grease board.

"It's a learning curve from the start of the season until now," Hannan said. "At times in games when we've lost it's been that little mental break. That's just something to reaffirm in our minds how important every shift is, how important every play is in the game. You never know what's going to break the other team or in essence break you in that game. I think that's just a reminder of how important that is."

The Flames won't have defenseman Derek Smith against San Jose - he's still recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered Dec. 29 against the Islanders - but Calgary locked him up for the next two seasons Wednesday with a new deal worth $1.5 million.

Smith initially signed this season with the Flames as a free agent after playing nine games with Ottawa and 71 games with Binghamton of the AHL last season.

"He's a 27-year-old player that came to training camp wanting an opportunity, and he earned that throughout camp," Sutter said. "He came in and did everything we wanted from him. He just has grown. You look at it, when he got hurt he was arguably our best defenseman at that point in time. We've missed him, but it's good both from an organizational standpoint and his standpoint that they can get something worked out. It's a commitment made by both sides and it's great to see that Smitty can be a Calgary Flame for the next two years and not worry about losing him because he is an important part of our defense."

Smith, who did not travel with the team on its road trip, has two goals and eight assists in 32 games this season.

"Derek came to training camp this year on a two-way contract and played his way into our starting lineup," GM Jay Feaster said in a statement. "When Mark Giordano went down with his hamstring injury, Smitty stepped up and shouldered an increased workload and did so in excellent fashion."

Here's how the lineups could look Wednesday night when the San Jose Sharks face the Calgary Flames at HP Pavilion:

SHARKS

Benn Ferriero - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski

Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Ryane Clowe

Jamie McGinn - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell

Brad Winchester - Andrew Desjardins - John McCarthy

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Dan Boyle

Douglas Murray - Brent Burns

Colin White - Justin Braun

Antti Niemi

Thomas Greiss

FLAMES

Alex Tanguay - Olli Jokinen - Jarome Iginla

Michael Cammalleri - Blair Jones - Blake Comeau

Lance Bouma - Mikael Backlund - Krys Kolanos

Tom Kostopoulos - Matt Stajan - Tim Jackman

Jay Bouwmeester - Chris Butler

Mark Giordano - Scott Hannan

T.J. Brodie - Cory Sarich

Miikka Kiprusoff

Leland Irving

Joe Pavelski will play his 400th NHL game Wednesday night, all as a Shark. McLellan hinted that he was going to shuffle his lines. Andrew Desjardins will likely move from first-line winger to fourth-line center, where he's spent most of the season. Benn Ferriero will likely return to the top line. One day after announcing his retirement, Owen Nolan will drop the puck during a pre-game ceremony. Nolan played for both San Jose and Calgary during his 18 NHL seasons.

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POSTED ON Thursday, 02.02.2012 / 4:40 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Clowe returns for Sharks, but Niemi injured

SAN JOSE -- Sharks forward Ryane Clowe was activated from injured reserve and will return to the lineup Thursday night against Dallas, but San Jose will be without No. 1 goaltender Antti Niemi, who suffered a lower-body injury Wednesday during practice.

Backup goalie Thomas Greiss will start against the Stars. Tyson Sexsmith was recalled from Worcester of the AHL to serve as Greiss’ backup Thursday night, and veteran Antero Niittymaki, who cleared waivers, was assigned to Worcester. In another roster move, defenseman Jason Demers (lower body) was placed on injured reserve.

Niemi was injured when he was hit by a puck. A smiling Niemi called it a “mid-body” injury and said he’ll be back on the ice for practice Friday and will ready to play Saturday at Phoenix.

“It should be fine,” Niemi said.

Clowe missed the past six games because of a facial fracture he suffered Jan. 10 at Minnesota. He played three games after that – the first two while wearing a protective cage – before going on injured reserve. He wore a protective visor during Thursday morning’s optional skate at HP Pavilion, and he’ll wear one tonight in a game for the first time since his junior hockey days.

“I think it’s probably smart for another little bit to keep it on,” Clowe said. “I don’t want anything to happen, get smacked there again. It was weird, really weird. That was the first time I’ve worn a visor in a while, but it was a little better than a cage.”

“I was advised it was the right thing to do. I think it’s something where I know that if I wear it for a little bit I can take it off eventually here pretty soon hopefully.”

Clowe is known for his rugged, aggressive style of play, as well as his willingness to drop the gloves. Will he have to be more cautious in light of his injury?

“Obviously the fighting part will be not there, I guess. Who knows?” Clowe said. “I’m not going to say it’s not going to be there because you see what happened to (defenseman Colin White) last game. I don’t’ think it will change my style. I can’t be cautious. I wouldn’t play if I felt I had to be timid out there. I’ll be my normal self, I think.”

White rarely fights because an eye injury he suffered in 2007, but he fought during the third period against Columbus on Tuesday night after taking a shoulder to the head.

Clowe seemed more concerned about adjusting to the visor and to live-game action after a long layoff than about his injury.

“I think the first period will be a bit of a battle tonight,” Clowe said. “I’m sure I’ll be sucking wind. I’m sure I’ll have spit and snot and everything else in my visor that I’ll be trying to battle through. That’s what I’ve got to get used to, and then the legs come after that. I’ve got to be able to see first.”

Niemi has had back-to-back shutouts, beating Calgary and Columbus, but Greiss has been on a hot streak, too. He allowed just one goal in each of his past three starts, beating Columbus twice and losing to Edmonton in a shootout.

“He’s kept teams to one goal and he’s come in and played very well,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “There isn’t any added pressure on him, by any means. He just comes in and plays his game, and that’s what we want to see.”

Greiss will face a Dallas team that is coming off a 6-2 win Wednesday night at Anaheim but had scored a total of seven goals in its previous six games.

“They have a couple of really good shooters,” Greiss said. “(Mike) Ribeiro is really crafty. You have to be ready for him, especially on the power play. He can throw a couple moves at you.

“Their whole team likes to try to go to the net. A couple of … disturbers, too. It should be a fun game.”

Sexsmith, a third-round pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, struggled last year at Worcester when he played despite having a hernia, but he made the AHL All-Star team this year. He has a 2.15 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage for Worcester.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Sexsmith said. “I’ve been in San Jose for a few years now, just waiting for my chance – having a good year down in Worcester. I finally got a chance to come up here and see what it’s like.”

After playing Wednesday night at Anaheim, the Stars held an optional morning skate with just three players on the ice – forward Toby Petersen, defensemen Nicklas Grossman and Adam Pardy and goaltender Richard Bachman. Grossman missed the Anaheim game because of the flu, but he’ll likely return to the lineup Thursday night.

Bachman will start for Dallas in place of Kari Lehtonen, Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said Wednesday night after his team’s win over Anaheim. Bachman is 6-2-1 with a 2.50 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. In the Sharks’ 5-2 victory against Dallas on Dec. 8, Bachman saw his first action of the season for the Stars in relief of Andrew Raycroft and stopped all 11 shots he faced. After that, he played well enough to earn the backup job.

“As a young goaltender, he came in and took a veteran’s job,” McLellan said. “When you do that, you’re doing something well. They ran him for a while and got a number of wins from him, so he feels good about being in the league. After that, the rest will be up to us to try to get to him and get to some second chances in and around the net. But based on the pre-scout, he’s played pretty well for them.”
Here’s how the lineups could look Thursday night when the San Jose Sharks face the Dallas Stars at HP Pavilion:

SHARKS
Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Benn Ferriero
Jamie McGinn - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell
Brad Winchester - Andrew Desjardins - Jim Vandermeer

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Dan Boyle
Douglas Murray - Brent Burns
Colin White - Justin Braun

Thomas Greiss
Tyson Sexsmith

STARS
Brenden Morrow - Mike Ribeiro - Loui Eriksson
Steve Ott - Jamie Benn - Michael Ryder
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Radek Dvorak
Jake Dowell - Tom Wandell - Adam Burish

Sheldon Souray - Stephane Robidas
Alex Goligoski - Philip Larsen
Nicklas Grossman - Trevor Daley

Richard Bachman
Kari Lehtonen
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 9:16 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Mason gets call for Columbus

SAN JOSE -- Columbus goaltender Curtis Sanford has allowed just four total goals in two games against San Jose this season - both 2-1 losses - but Steve Mason will be in goal Tuesday night when the Blue Jackets face the Sharks at HP Pavilion.

On their last California road trip earlier in January, Sanford suffered a one-goal loss to the Sharks then beat the Los Angeles Kings 1-0. The Blue Jackets will face the Kings again in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

"We're playing back-to-back games," Columbus interim coach Todd Richards said of his decision to start Mason. "Sanford played both games, here in San Jose and also in L.A. He played well in both buildings, but we're playing back-to-back. Steve's played well in his last two starts. (Sanford) played the last game in Tampa. It seems logical to us that he'll play tonight and Sanford will play tomorrow in L.A."

Mason will play in his 200th career game Tuesday night. He has an 82-85-25 career mark with a 2.85 goals against average and a .903 save percentage. This season he is 5-18-2 with a 3.42 goals against average and a .882 save percentage.

It's been that type of season for the Blue Jackets, who are last in the NHL with just 32 points. While the Sharks and most NHL teams begin their playoff pushes, Columbus has to set for smaller goals.

"I talked to the guys about the goal I have for this road trip, and hopefully they have the same type of goals and what they want to accomplish as a group because I can have one thing and want one thing and it might not mean the same to them," Richards said. "So hopefully we're kind of on the same road as far as what we want, but it's getting those small goals and what's realistic, what we can achieve.

"Trying to create a fun atmosphere again, too. We've been beaten up so much this year. A lot of it is self-inflicted, with the beating up that we've done, but it's trying to create a positive environment again where we can enjoy being around each other, enjoy being at the rink and enjoy doing what we're doing."

Richards declined to reveal his specific goals for his team's three-game California swing against the Sharks, Kings and Ducks.

"It has nothing to do with points," he said. "It has nothing to do with wins, losses or ties. It's just something that as a coach, as a coaching staff that we just want to see from our team"

Opening on the road against San Jose is a tough assignment for the Blue Jackets in their first game after the All-Star Game break, but they've played the Sharks tough twice in one-goal losses, at HP Pavilion and at home.

"They've obviously got a lot of skill and a lot of talent on their team, but for many years they've been a hard-working team, too," captain Rick Nash said. "I think that's the way we have success is by outworking them. They've got a lot of weapons over there. They're a pretty dangerous team. Good goal tending. We've got to make sure we outwork them."

Getting off to a good start after the long break will be important for both teams.

"I think the biggest thing is getting our timing back right away," Nash said. "You sometimes lose that after one day off. So four or five days off, we're going to have to get our legs back and our timing."

San Jose forward Patrick Marleau said the key tonight for the Sharks will be to "keep it simple" in their first post-break game.

"Get your legs, your body, your mind into it early. Attention to detail is going to be important," Marleau said.

"You've got to be sharp from the get-go," Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray said. "The big thing is to get your confidence back and your skating and your puckhandling and your passing, just try to be as sharp as possible from the beginning."

Blue Jackets center Jeff Carter hasn't played since suffering a separated shoulder on Jan. 8, but he was on the ice for the morning skate at HP Pavilion. Although Carter won't play tonight, Richards sounded positive about his chances of returning to action soon.

"He's getting close," Richards said. "I don't know if that means tomorrow night or our game in Anaheim."

Center Andrew Joudrey, called up Monday from Springfield of the AHL, isn't expected to play Tuesday night, but he might make his NHL debut during the road trip.

"When you talk to the coaches down there and talk to the guys who have seen him play in management, they say he has been playing extremely well, and he's earned the opportunity to get up here and the opportunity, if it does present itself, to play," Richards said.

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Once again, it shows character in this dressing room. Once again, there's no quitting in here. We all wanted this so bad and we worked so hard to get home-ice advantage and we weren't going to let this one slide.

— Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog on his team's OT Game 1 win vs. Minnesota Wild