SAN JOSE – After losing back-to-back games and falling from third place to ninth in the Western Conference standings, the San Jose Sharks will take good news wherever they can find it.
Based on the numbers, having back-to-back games against the Dallas Stars certainly qualifies as good news for the Sharks.
The Sharks have gone 3-0-1 against Dallas entering Game No. 5 in the season series Saturday night at HP Pavilion. They’re 2-0 against the Stars at HP Pavilion, winning those games by a combined score of 10-4. In their three wins, the Sharks have outscored Dallas 14-5.
“For whatever reason they bring out the best in us,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said after San Jose’s morning skate at HP. “We’ve always played well in their building, and this year we’ve kind of had their number in our building. Hopefully we’ll continue that trend tonight.”
The Stars certainly won’t lack motivation. They can clinch a playoff berth with back-to-back regulation wins over San Jose – Saturday night in San Jose and Tuesday night in Dallas. But the Stars are also playing their second game in two nights after falling 5-2 Friday night at Vancouver. Dallas is 1-10-2 this season in the second game of back-to-backs.
After arriving in San Jose late Friday night, the Stars held an optional skate Saturday morning with only six players on the ice. Most of the team remained at the hotel, getting some much-needed rest.
Dallas owns seventh place in the West with 89 points, while the Sharks are two spots back with 88 points. Both teams have four games left to play.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan said one key reason why his team has had so much success against Dallas this season is that it’s been able to grab early leads.
“We’ve been able to establish that in most of the games,” McLellan said. “The special teams, our penalty kill’s been pretty good there. We haven’t given up many goals. And just getting timely goals from people when we need them -- pretty simple formula, and we’ll need that again tonight.”
The Sharks scored only one goal in its past two games, a 3-1 loss at Anaheim and a 2-0 defeat at Phoenix. Some of their top goal scorers have gone ice cold. Patrick Marleau ranks third on the team with 28 goals, but he has scored just two goals in his past 18 games. Logan Couture, who leads the Sharks with 30 goals, has gone nine games without a goal.
Marleau was asked if tries to change his game plan or approach when he’s in a scoring drought.
“Depends on how the game’s going,” Marleau said. “If I’m not getting chances or I don’t find myself in the right spots, obviously I’m going to change that up, but if I’m creating scoring opportunities for my linemates or getting them myself, you got to stick with it.”
During the Sharks’ morning skate, defenseman Douglas Murray was on the ice, and there’s a chance he could return tonight after missing one game with a lower-body injury.
“If he is able to play at 100 percent, we will have him,” McLellan said. “If there’s a risk of him not being able to finish and us being put into a position to play five [defensemen], we won’t.”
Murray was injured in the first period against Anaheim on Wednesday and didn’t play in the second or third periods. He said he felt “good” during practice on Saturday but didn’t sound as if he’s 100 percent healthy.
“I probably felt I could have kept playing the other night, too,” Murray said. “It’s an important time right now, and if you’re somewhat affected by something and you can’t make the play you need – one goal could be the difference. This might have been a little bit different if it was Game 40.”
Here’s how the lineups could look Saturday night when the San Jose Sharks face the Dallas Stars at HP Pavilion:
Patrick Marleau – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe – Logan Couture – Martin Havlat
TJ Galiardi – Dominic Moore – Torrey Mitchell
Daniel Winnik – Andrew Desjardins – Tommy Wingels
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Dan Boyle
Colin White/Douglas Murray – Brent Burns
Jason Demers – Justin Braun
Niemi, the first goalie off the ice Saturday morning, is expected to make his 18th consecutive start. He is 2-0-1 with a 1.96 goals against average this season against Dallas.
Loui Eriksson – Mike Ribeiro – Michael Ryder
Steve Ott – Jamie Benn – Tomas Vincour
Brenden Morrow – Vernon Fiddler – Adam Burish
Ryan Garbutt – Jake Dowell – Reilly Smith
Sheldon Souray – Stephane Robidas
Adam Pardy – Trevor Daley
Alex Goligoski – Philip Larsen
Lehtonen is expected to make his eighth consecutive start. He is 1-0-0 with a 2.77 goals against average this season against San Jose. Lehtonen is 14-8-2 on the road with a 2.18 goals against average and .933 save percentage.