SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The San Jose Sharks haven't enjoyed the view from atop the Pacific Division since Feb. 25, but they can reclaim first place Monday night with a victory Anaheim (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN) at HP Pavilion.
Just don't expect the surging Sharks to use that as a rallying cry.
"Winning is the motivating factor," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said after his team's morning skate. "Not standings or Pacific Division, because tomorrow we'll be talking about it again. Just flat-out winning has to be their motivator, and what a great motivator. That's what we set out to do in Game 1 and we set out to do in Game 72."
The Sharks tumbled out of the Pacific lead that night when Phoenix beat Edmonton and they lost to Nashville in the next-to-last game of a disastrous nine-game road trip.
The Sharks have won two straight games and have earned at least one point in six of their past seven games, but they have more work to do in their final 11 games to secure a playoff spot. With 82 points, they're ninth in the Western Conference, one point behind Phoenix and Colorado. By beating Anaheim, the Sharks would jump over second-place Phoenix and first-place Dallas (82 points) for the Pacific lead and the conference's No. 3 playoff spot.
The Sharks and Ducks are the only Pacific Division teams in action tonight.
"The standings will take care of themselves," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. "It's in our hands. We're aware of that. If we take care of our business, we'll be where we want to be at the end of the season."
After making a strong run as they tried to dig their way out of a huge early hole, the Ducks have won just once in their last six games (1-5-1) and are all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. Even so, the Sharks know better than to take their division rivals lightly. The Ducks have won three of the first four games in the series this season.
"They always play us hard," McLellan said. "It's a natural rival. Their leadership group kind of matches our leadership group. They provide a lot to their team. They count on three or four guys to do a lot of their scoring. We do the same thing here in our organization. It's always a real intense battle.
"Having played them so much over the years, you have a ton of respect for their competitiveness, the Corey Perrys and the (Ryan) Getzlafs. So I don't think we're going to see a team that's going to take their foot off the gas pedal. In fact, they may push it a little bit harder tonight."
The Ducks, facing the second game in a back-to-back, will have to summon enough energy to push the pedal harder. They're coming off a 3-1 loss to Nashville on Sunday. Most of the Ducks' regulars opted to skip Monday morning's optional skate in order to rest.
"It's a challenge," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It's our fifth game in eight days again. I think sometimes the guys are mentally tired and need a break, but we'll get it when we get it."
Boudreau knows there will be no rest for his weary team against San Jose.
"They're good. They go to the net. They're four lines deep and six defense deep," Boudreau said. "That's the challenge, and they play hard. And they're in a desperate situation. The challenge is survival and getting through. We know we've got a huge battle on our hands. That's the challenge."
They'd probably laugh in your face, as reporters learned Monday morning after Detroit's morning skate at Joe Louis Arena.
"He's still got what? Thirty goals?" asked Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall. "I'd say that's still pretty good."
Informed of a notion that there's now a "book" on how to contain Ovechkin's immense offensive talents, Kronwall chuckled.
"Really?" he said. "Be sure to send it this way."
Chicago's top defenseman, Duncan Keith, probably would like a copy of it too -- just to see if there's a section entitled: "How to Stop the Reverse Between-the-Legs Pass to Himself and Go."
Ovechkin pulled that little number out at Keith's expense Sunday in Chicago, and the 2010 Norris Trophy winner didn't really have much of a chance to stop it. Ovechkin zipped past him to the outside going 1-on-4 and then deposited the puck into the short side of the net over Corey Crawford's shoulder for his 30th goal of the season.
"It's a good goal," fellow Russian Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings said. "All over the highlights. It's a good goal. It's why he's one of the best."
Asked if he likes playing against Ovechkin, Datsyuk only needed four words for an answer.
"Against him?" Datsyuk said. "Not really."
That's because Datsyuk -- whose own hockey skills are largely unmatched -- thinks Ovechkin is still every bit the superstar he was when he was averaging 54 goals per season in his first five seasons. Ovechkin "only" has 30 goals this season, but Datsyuk believes Ovechkin's past amazing seasons skew anything less.
"He's the same as before, but now more people waiting for him more and more," Datsyuk said. "If he's not scoring 50-goal seasons, (they say), 'Oh, he not good anymore.' I think he's really good. You need to pay attention. He shoots from anywhere. He's one of those guys who can score from anywhere."
The Red Wings learned that lesson the hard way a year ago in this building, when Ovechkin fired a rocket wrist shot through the legs of a defenseman that went over the shoulder of goalie Jimmy Howard and under the crossbar.
"It's quick and it's fast," Howard said of Ovechkin's shot. "He gets it off relatively quick; usually it's really hard, as well. He's dangerous no matter where he is on the ice when he's shooting."
That's why the best way to play against him as a defender is just anticipating his position on the ice and trying to take away as many options as possible.
"You'd like to get a gap up on him early, hopefully try to take away that wrister he's got," Kronwall said. "Anytime he enters the zone, he either tries to beat you wide or he's going for that wrister between your legs. It's tough. He's always shooting at the right times."
And when he's not, as Keith discovered Sunday, he's just as dangerous with his stickhandling.
"That's why it's so tough, because you don't know what he's going to do," Kronwall said. "Sometimes he'll shoot and sometimes he'll fake the shot and go around you. With that speed and size advantage, you've definitely got to be aware of when he's on the ice. Those guys are definitely hard to defend, and with his size and skillset and shot, he's the complete package."
Nyquist was with them for Detroit's morning skate at Joe Louis Arena on Monday, while veteran Danny Cleary was put on the right side of the a re-tooled third line that will be missing injured center Darren Helm (knee sprain).
"Depends how he plays," Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland said when asked if Nyquist might stick in the NHL. "He might be (with Datsyuk and Bertuzzi) for a shift. It all depends. Nyquist has played very well in the American Hockey League, but that's the American Hockey League. We're trying to roll 3-4 lines and Cleary is a guy that can play up and play down. You put Cleary and (Justin Abdelkader) and (Drew Miller) together and it's a real good third checking line."
Putting the talents of Datsyuk, Bertuzzi and Nyquist together also could be interesting. Nyquist is one of the AHL's top scorers this season and recently has shown flashes of his impressive skillset with the Red Wings.
He's yet to score a goal, but the 22-year old Nyquist has 3 assists and a plus-1 rating in eight games -- including assists in two of his last three games.
"He's young and has lots of skill and fresh legs," Datsyuk said. "We don't need to match (skills). We need (to) help each other. He's (got) good skill and (he's) fresh and exciting ... what we needed. It's the end of the season. Everybody is getting tired and has lots of injuries. I think he helps us a lot."
At least that's what Nyquist is hoping to do.
"It's a great opportunity for me and that's what I want to be down the road," he said of getting a shot to play in the top-six forward group. "It's a good start to kind of get a feel for it and hopefully I'll take advantage of it tonight."
His previous eight NHL games have given Nyquist added confidence each time he now suits up for the Red Wings.
"It helps every game you play up here," he said. "You learn something new every game and it feels a lot better now than at the start of the year, especially playing a lot of minutes down in Grand Rapids. That helps a lot."
Should he start the game flanking Datsyuk, that means Nyquist could find himself on the ice at the same time as Capitals star Alex Ovechkin -- who has been known to abuse many opponents, let alone rookies.
Nyquist knows he'll have to be aware of who's on the ice for Washington and also that his opportunity to play with Datsyuk could be short if it doesn't pay dividends.
"We're hoping Nyquist can do some things, but obviously if we're in the first period and there's no magic or no chemistry, then the coach will make changes," Holland said.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, assistant coach Steve Webb recaps the team's Atlantic Youth Hockey League championship.The Under-16 Long Island Royals Midget National team defeated the New Jersey Junior Titans in the tournament final on March 4 at the Ice House in Hackensack, N.J.
We wanted to use the AYHL tournament as a stepping stone to the New York State tournament. Anytime you get to play against good teams in one weekend, like we did against the North Jersey Avalanche and the Junior Titans, it does get you prepared for what is ahead. We used that tourney to help the players get prepared and to learn how to play when things are actually on the line.
We did win it and players showed up at the right time to step it up. In the later stages of the season, you want to see how they're going into a championship game and how they look at it and prepare for it.
DETROIT -- After not dressing for Sunday's game in Chicago, Washington Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun was unable to go through an optional morning skate Monday at Joe Louis Arena.
He stretched and then came off the ice. Afterward, he told reporters it was more of a precautionary measure to prevent a nagging groin injury from getting worse.
"It wasn't good enough to skate, but it's better," Vokoun said. "I came back a little too early before and we just want to make sure now we don't make it worse. You always worry about it, but you never know. I'm going to try and get it as good as fast as possible."
The injury has bothered him for quite a while, but he re-aggravated it last Friday playing in Winnipeg.
"I kind of irritated it," Vokoun said. "I've had it for a longer time. It didn't happen last game. Obviously, with our job description, there's a lot of pressure on that certain (groin area). Like I said, I just want to make sure I don't take one step forward and three back."
Capitals coach Dale Hunter also called it "precautionary" and didn't reveal who would start Monday's game against the Detroit Red Wings. Signs seem to point to Michal Neuvirth getting his second straight start, however, after taking the loss in a 5-2 defeat Sunday in Chicago.
The other option is 22-year old Braden Holtby, whose only other NHL action this season was a Feb. 13 against San Jose, when he allowed five goals on 30 shots. Holtby worked with goalie coach Olie Kolzig during the sparsely-attended optional skate, while Neuvirth sat out.
Vokoun, meanwhile, seemed a little frustrated by his lingering injury.
"I've never had any experience with (this)," he said. "I've never had it. It's unfortunate and I can't control that stuff. We're working on it and as soon as I feel it's good enough to, you know, play ... then I'll play."
DETROIT -- Darren Helm knew something bad had happened in his left knee almost immediately after he hit the ice in the third period Saturday in San Jose.
After trying to get a big hit against San Jose Sharks forward Dominic Moore in the neutral zone near the Red Wings' bench, Helm's leg appeared to get tangled with Moore's and Helm crashed to the ice in pain.
An MRI done Monday morning in Detroit showed Helm is suffering from a Grade 2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee and according to Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland, will miss 4-6 weeks..
"It's a sprain," Holland said. "You wait for the sprain to heal. This one just so happens to be on his knee. If you sprain your thumb, you don't do anything for it. You just wait for it to heal. This is the same thing.
"We just have to wait for it to heal."
He should be used to that refrain by now, with Detroit's list of walking wounded seemingly growing by the day. The good news is that several Red Wings appear to be on the mend, including defensemen Jonathan Ericsson (fractured wrist) and Jakub Kindl (oblique strain).
"The playoffs are three-and-a-half weeks away," Holland said. "I'm hoping Helm's a fast healer and he'll be ready sometime around the start of the playoffs. That's certainly the hope, but you won't know until you let some time go by. But certainly we're hoping sometime during the first round of the playoffs we'll get Helmer back. In the meantime, it's an opportunity for (Gustav Nyquist) to play and an opportunity for (Justin Abdelkader) to have a bigger role."
Abdelkader will fill in for Helm at center on the third line, which likely will start with Danny Cleary at right wing.
"We're grinding right now," Holland said of his team, which has won just once in the past seven games (1-5-1). "We weren't overly pleased with our effort in our games in California (last week). I thought we played hard in San Jose. We just have to keep grinding."
DETROIT -- One bit of good news from Monday's morning skate came from defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, who participated in his first full morning skate since taking a slap shot off the outside of his skate Feb. 25 against Colorado. He left the lineup with a deep bone bruise in his ankle and has missed the last nine games -- which are three more than he's ever missed in any one of his 19 previous NHL seasons.
Lidstrom tried to get on the ice a couple of times last week during a road trip out West, but never lasted long, and eventually was sent home. On Monday, he wasn't near full speed but was at least able to complete the workout.
"That's encouraging compared to how it was on Wednesday morning in L.A., where if I had my skate on I couldn't really stand on my foot," Lidstrom said. "That's an improvement for sure, where I was able to skate out there and even pivot and do some turns."
His teammates were pretty happy to have him out there, as well.
"He's a guy you want in the lineup every night, especially our power play would like a little boost," Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "Just seeing him on the ice, we know he's getting closer. Hopefully he'll be back soon. Until then, we all have to dig in and take care of business."
Lidstrom said he's still "day-to-day" with the injury, which has been X-rayed several times and hasn't shown any fractures -- including the latest one taken Friday when he got back to Detroit.
"It's still just a bone bruise that's taking time to heal," Lidstrom said. "I still look at it as day-to-day and hopefully it gets better every day. Hopefully (Monday's morning skate) will help me, too, and that it's not going to get worse from skating."
He'll find that out Tuesday, when Lidstrom is hoping to go through a full practice for the first time since getting hurt. The biggest issues have been swelling and pain once he puts his foot in the skate and laces it up, but the swelling has subsided a decent amount in the past couple weeks.
"It's slowly been getting better, but the big test is when you put your skate on and when you're skating," Lidstrom said. "That's when you put the most pressure on it and can test it out. I can walk around and do all that, but the most pain is from tying the skate and putting the pressure on where it's hurting and then trying to skate."
The Wings have just 10 regular-season games left, but Lidstrom said he's planning to get back into games before the playoffs begin.
"As far as playing again, I think it's going to be up to the coaches and trainers," Lidstrom said. "I want to get back before the playoffs. I want to get some games in before the playoffs start. Hopefully it's just a matter of getting better every day."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Vancouver goaltender Cory Schneider will get a second consecutive start for the Canucks when they play at Minnesota on Monday.
For Schneider, it will be the fifth straight time he has started for Vancouver in St. Paul. Lifetime against the Wild, he is 5-2-0 with a 2.16 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage -- the latter two figures significantly better than Roberto Luongo, who has struggled mightily in this building. Luongo has shut out the Wild on three consecutive occasions, but all of those games were at Rogers Centre.
"I always feel comfortable on the road, I enjoy playing on the road," Schneider said. "(The Wild) are going through a tough time right now, but they've always given us trouble in this building. You can never expect them to lay down."
Schneider, who turned 26 on Sunday, is in the midst of a career season, going 16-6-1 with a 2.12 GAA and .932 save percentage.
"Flying to Minneapolis," Schneider said when asked how he spent his birthday. And afterwards? "Not much. Just dinner and relaxed."
The Canucks will make a couple of other tweaks to the lineup, as Vancouver will get Manny Malhotra back after he missed two games for personal reasons. He will take the place of Mason Raymond.
"He's struggling a little bit right now," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said of Raymond. "We've tried different possibilities with him. He can be such a valuable player on our team when he's playing his skilled game, being strong on the ice and using that skill and that speed. Right now, we're just having a tough time helping him find the players he can have the most success with."
Vigneault also said defenseman Sami Salo will not play. With the Canucks embarking on a four-game road trip, Vigneault figures tonight's game against 13th-place Minnesota would provide him with the best opportunity to give Salo a rest. Chicago, Dallas and Colorado are the final three stops on the trip and all are in the playoff race.
"He's such an important part of our team," Vigneault said. "Probably our best overall defenseman in terms of being able to contribute offensively and defensively. That combined with the fact that he is our oldest player.
"I had a chat with him a couple of times that if the opportunity or schedule would get to a point maybe we could get him a night off, it would be the right thing to do."
Minnesota had an optional skate this morning with several players expected to play tonight not in attendance. The team did send goalie Matt Hackett back to AHL Houston to make room for injured goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who is back from a lower-body injury.
DETROIT -- During a 5-2 loss Sunday in Chicago, Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter scrambled his line combinations in search of more offensive firepower.
It worked in the second period as the Caps scored twice, but didn't seem to do much in the third.
Washington held a very limited optional morning skate at Joe Louis Arena on Monday prior to facing the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night, so it's anybody's guess how Hunter's lineup will look.
The best guess is that he goes back to what the Caps started with against Chicago, plus a couple of anticipated changes. Roman Hamrlik could be inserted into the lineup on the blue line with Jeff Schultz a likely candidate to be replaced, while forward Jeff Halpern also could get back into a game.
Forward Joel Ward, who was a plus-1 against the Blackhawks, was one of only a handful of skaters on the ice Monday, so he could be a candidate to sit out.
Goalie Tomas Vokoun will not dress for the second straight game due to a lower-body injury that he aggravated this past Friday in Winnipeg. Braden Holtby will dress for the second straight game, but Hunter would not reveal who will get the starting nod between him and Michal Neuvirth, who took the loss in Chicago.
Jimmy Howard, who recently was among the injured with his own groin issue, will get the start in net, with Jordan Pearce backing him up.
The good news for both Detroit and Washington is that Russian stars and friends Pavel Datsyuk and Alex Ovechkin are healthy enough to face each other again -- which usually is a lot of fun to watch for fans and fellow teammates alike.
Detroit fell to fifth in the Western Conference because of tie-breakers after Nashville beat Anaheim on Sunday, while the Caps are clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, just two points ahead of ninth-place Winnipeg and 10th-place Buffalo.
Here's a look at how the Capitals and Red Wings might line up Monday:
Your team is going to want to recapture the feeling. What they're going to have to figure out is they're going to have to rewrite the story. Because you're going to rewrite the story doesn't mean you want a different end. It's just that you're going to have to learn that there's different challenges to get there, and if you're going to try and tap the same feeling, it ain't going to happen.
— Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi on maintaining their success from last season