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."
T.J. Brodie - Cory Sarich
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.
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.
SAN JOSE -- Midway through the San Jose Sharks' 2-1 shootout win over Calgary on Tuesday night, rookie forward Tommy Wingels jumped from the third line to the first, joining Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski.
That's where it looks like Wingels will be skating Thursday night when the Sharks face Ottawa at HP Pavilion.
"You prepare for moments like this," Wingels said after the morning skate. "When you think about playing up, this ultimately is the spot you want. You're always dreaming about playing with guys like that in this situation. I don't' think there's too much pressure. I'll just stick to my game. You can't change the way you play. I'm sure they'll do the same thing."
Thornton said Wingels "seemed to be calm" Tuesday night, and he expects him to remain that way in what could be seen as a pressure-filled assignment for a rookie.
"He's a pretty calm guy in general," Thornton said. "It didn't really faze him. Hopefully we get some chemistry and get it going."
"Chemistry isn't made overnight, but they're great players, and I'm just going to try to help them continue being great players," Wingels said.
Fourth-line center Andrew Desjardins will return to the lineup after missing two games with a head injury. He took a shoulder-to-head hit Saturday against Columbus from Dane Byers, who was suspended three games by the League.
Desjardins passed his baseline concussion test and was cleared on Wednesday to play.
"We expect him to be ready to go," coach Todd McLellan said.
Niittymaki hasn't played in or even dressed for a game this season with the Sharks since his recall. On Thursday, he headed back to Worcester for another conditioning assignment. He's expected to play two games for Worcester over the weekend, general manager Doug Wilson said.
Niittymaki's trip to Worcester coincides with the start of top goalie prospect Alex Stalock's stint at Stockton of the ECHL. Stalock suffered a season-ending injury during a game for Worcester last Feb. 4. He had a nerve behind his left knee severed when he was accidently stepped on by an opponent. He's expected to play his first game since that injury on Saturday.
Thursday night's game will be a reunion of sorts for McLellan and Ottawa Senators first-year coach Paul MacLean, who spent three seasons together as Detroit Red Wings assistants under Mike Babcock. They'll face each other for the first time as coaches in the NHL.
The Senators went 32-40-10 last season under Cory Clouston, who was let go and replaced by MacLean. This season, they're 26-16-6 and have gone 8-1-1 in their past 10 games.
"I think that Paul MacLean has done a tremendous job," McLellan said. "He's done such a good job instilling his system and getting the players to believe in it. I think when you watch them and do the pre-scout, it's pretty evident.
"Obviously spending time with him and Mike, I have a good idea of how they want to play, and you can see it. And I think that's a sign of a coach doing a tremendous job. … It looks like they're having fun playing the game. It looks like they have an identity. They're a very dynamic offensive team when they're on the entries. Their defense is up in the rush, very much like a Red Wing team."
And very much like a Sharks team, too, for that matter.
"I think there's similarities," MacLean said. "You don't work together with people and have success and not share ideas and have an idea of how to play, so there's really a lot of similarities among the three teams, I would say. But each person also brings their own little tweak, a thing that they might think is a little bit more important, but also the rest of the league mimics whatever's successful, so there's an awful lot of similarity throughout the league, too."
McLellan said he's probably "further into the evolution" away from his Red Wings days than MacLean because this is his fourth season at San Jose.
"You bring a lot of the principles with you, but if you're not changing and you're not evolving with your players and the tools you have, you're going to be left behind," McLellan said. "The game has changed a lot in our four years here."
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I loved being in the jerseys again and they worked some magic for us. It was weird in warm-ups, seeing No. 22 in that jersey and thinking he’s [Mike Gartner], and No. 8 reminds you of Danny Briere … every number had me thinking back to the guys who wore them and smiling.