SAN JOSE – Saturday night’s game between the San Jose Sharks and Florida Panthers is shaping up as a battle of backup goaltenders.
Thomas Greiss will definitely start for San Jose, Sharks coach Todd McClellan said after his team’s morning skate. Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said whether Scott Clemmensen starts will be a game-time decision, but the Miami Herald is reporting that Clemmensen will “definitely” open against San Jose.
“I haven’t made my final call yet,” Dineen said. “We’ll … see how the California air treats these guys.”
Backing up Antti Niemi, Greiss is 4-3 with a 1.99 goals against average and a .929 save percentage. In his last start on Nov. 20 at Colorado, he gave up one goal on 37 shots in a 4-1 Sharks win.
“Thomas is playing. We’re excited about that,” McLellan said. “He’s played well for us. We trust him to give us a good night.”
Clemmensen has made only one start this season in place of Jose Theodore, stopping all 25 shots he faced in a 6-0 shutout of Dallas. For his career, he’s 51-39-14 with a 2.63 goals against average. .910 save percentage and seven shutouts.
Panthers forward Kris Versteeg said he doesn’t know much about Greiss but did play against him in the AHL.
“He’s a quick goaltender and he has great reflexes,” Versteeg said. “He’s maybe not the biggest guy, but he can get post to post pretty quickly. You’re going to have to bear down on those second opportunities.”
Versteeg, the team’s leading goal scorer, will return to the lineup Saturday night. He missed one game after taking a forearm to the head from Carolina’s Derek Joslin on Tuesday.
He ended up with a broken nose and a strained neck, but Versteeg said he sat out Thursday night’s game at Los Angeles because he had headaches and was concerned that he had a concussion.
“I was definitely worried,” Versteeg said after the Panthers’ morning skate at HP Pavilion. “I think everyone, we were worried, and it was precautionary. Like they said, when you’re getting some headaches and you’re not sure what’s it’s from, you don’t really know. But I’ve done all that (testing) and it’s good to go, and I feel good.”
Versteeg said he still has a “pretty bad stiff neck” from the hit Tuesday night.
“That’s nothing you can’t play through. I’ve played through a lot, a lot of other injuries before with my two hernias last year and other things like that,” Versteeg said. “I’m not really worried about a stiff neck. But when you get headaches, it’s concerning. I was worried about it and I’m glad it’s OK.”
Evgenii Dadvonov started in Versteeg’s spot on the first line against Los Angeles, but he’ll be a healthy scratch against San Jose, Dineen said. Bracken Kearns will remain on the fourth line with winger Tim Kennedy and center Mark Cullen.
Forward Marco Sturm, who played the first seven-plus seasons of his NHL career with San Jose, will face the Sharks with the Florida Panthers for the first time Saturday night. The Sharks traded Sturm to Boston on Nov. 30, 2005, as part of the blockbuster deal for Joe Thornton. Since then he has made other NHL stops in Los Angeles, Washington and Vancouver, which traded him to Florida on Oct. 22 in a four-player deal.
Sturm said he was surprised when Vancouver traded him and surprised by how well the Panthers have played this season. One season after finishing last in the Eastern Conference with 72 points, Florida leads the Southeast Division with 30 points with a new coach in Dineen and with a revamped roster.
“It’s great,” Sturm said. “Obviously to have the big change in the summer – I was really surprised when I got here, how good the team is and how fast they clicked. It’s a good group of guys and it’s a lot of fun with a new coach. He’s been great so far. I’m glad to be a part of it. I came early enough to kind of grow up with the guys again. It’s been great. The guys made it really easy for me. It definitely helps.”
Sharks second-line winger Martin Havlat was a plus-three during Thursday night’s 4-3 shootout win against Montreal with an assist, and McLellan called it his best game of the season.
“It was a good game,” Havlat said Saturday. “It was better than the other games I played in the last two weeks. I think we played really well as a whole line. We were moving the puck well, having a good forecheck. Overall it was a good game and everybody worked hard.”
Havlat said it helped being reunited with center Logan Couture, who returned after a stint as a first-line wing. Couture, Ryane Clowe and Havlat opened the season together.
“We played together the first nine, 10 games and then (Thursday),” Havlat said. “We played some pretty good games together. We’ll see how it goes. It’s up to the coaches, but the last game was pretty good.”
Patrick Marleau returned Thursday to the first line as a winger after his stint as a second-line center. He was a minus-2, while first-line center Joe Thornton and winger Joe Pavelski were each minus-3.
“They had a bad night,” McLellan said. “They didn’t perform very well. They know that. Their teammates bailed them out. They’ve done that for their teammates many nights. I have no problem putting them back on the ice tonight expect much better from them.”
Marleau said he struggled a bit making the adjustment back to wing after playing center.
“I think sometimes as a winger you get stuck on the board a little bit,” Marleau said. “You got to remind yourself to get skating and push the pace a little bit and create things that way. As a center you’re always in and around the play. As a winger you’ve got to make sure you go to it.”
Defenseman Colin White said he hadn’t received the official word but that he thinks he’s going to be in the lineup Saturday night, paired with Jason Demers. White, who spent some time away from the team after a death in his family, hasn’t played since Nov. 20 at Colorado, a stretch of four games.
“I definitely want to get back in,” White said. “It’s no fun sitting out, that’s for sure. This is all new to me.”
McLellan said he’ll decide at game-time whether White or Jim Vandermeer starts in the third defensive pair. Vandermeer has started the past four games.
Here are the possible lineups for Saturday night’s game between the San Jose Sharks and Florida Panthers at HP Pavilion:
Patrick Marleau – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe – Logan Couture – Martin Havlat
Jamie McGinn – Michal Handzus – Torrey Mitchell
Brad Winchester – Andrew Desjardins – Andrew Murray
Dan Boyle – Douglas Murray
Brent Burns – Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Jason Demers – Colin White
Tomas Fleischmann – Stephen Weiss – Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim – Shawn Matthias – Tomas Kopecky
Marco Sturm – Mike Santorelli – Jack Skille
Tim Kennedy – Mark Cullen – Bracken Kearns
Ed Jovanoski – Erik Gudbranson
Jason Garrison – Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov – Mike Weaver