|The San Jose Sharks said goodbye to HP Pavilion after their Feb. 10 game against the Chicago Blackhawks, knowing well their playoff fate could be helped or hindered by the nine-game road trip that awaited them. They had a comfortable lead atop the Pacific Division standings and left the comforts of home with a ton of confidence after a 5-3 victory. |
Since then, the going has been tougher for the Sharks and a bout with injuries has not helped their cause. Coming into tonight’s game against the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena, the Sharks have dropped their last three games and seen their divisional lead shrink to just two points over the second-place Phoenix Coyotes – who are red-hot of late. The pressure has definitely cranked up in San Jose and head coach Todd McLellan is looking for answers on his blue line, as both Marc-Eduoard Vlasic (puck to the face, questionable) and Douglas Murray (adam’s apple, out) could be out of the Sharks lineup tonight. Vlasic was injured during Sunday’s loss in Detroit, and Murray since has traveled back to California for further evaluation.
Though the Sharks have dropped four of the first five games on the road trip, they’ve still experienced success on the power play and it has given them life when desperately needed. They currently own the NHL’s third-best power play, and on the other side, the Blue Jackets’ man-advantage unit has been doing work of its own: Columbus has scored nine power-play goals in its last eight games, and has power-play goals in seven of those contests. As is usually case this time of year in the NHL, special teams are a deciding factor in hockey games.
Columbus can expect the Sharks to play the part of a desperate club tonight, especially given the push being put on by the Anaheim Ducks. McLellan did not mince words when he said goaltender Antti Niemi “has to be better” after a 6-5 OT loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning last week, signaling higher expectations for the Finn.
| || || |
|Nash (19) ||Couture (25) |
|Prospal (25) ||Thornton (40) |
|Nash (40) ||Thornton (52) |
|Dorsett (177) ||Winchester (75) |
|MacKenzie (+3) ||Pavelski (+15) |
|Sanford (10-13-4) |
|Niemi (23-14-6) |
|Sanford (2.52) ||Greiss (2.13) |
|Sanford (.915) ||Greiss (.923) || |
|• The Blue Jackets continue a run that has them playing four of five and eight of 11 at Nationwide Arena. Columbus enters tonight’s game 4-3-1 its last eight games after going winless its previous six games (0-5-1). Following tonight’s game, the club hosts Colorado on Friday. |
• Derick Brassard has goals in back-to-back games after scoring his 11th of the season Sunday at NY Rangers. He had been held goalless the previous five games. He has points in six of the last nine games (4-4-8), while registering 9-10-19 the last 27 games after being held to 2-3-5 the first 24 games this year.
• Rick Nash has points in six of eight games after scoring his 19th goal of the season Sunday at NY Rangers. He has 2-5-7 during that stretch, while collecting 6-7-13 the last 20 games and 15-13-28 the last 41 games. He has scored 15 goals the last 40 games after being held to four goals the first 19 games this year.
• Tonight marks the fourth and final meeting overall and second of two meetings at Nationwide Arena this season between the Blue Jackets and Sharks. Columbus is 13-26-4 all-time against San Jose, including a 10-9-2 mark at Nationwide Arena.
D - #88
• Burns was the centerpiece of one the two major deals between the Sharks and Minnesota Wild last summer, and he’s settled into a top-four role on a blue line loaded with skill. He is second among Sharks defensemen in scoring (trailing Dan Boyle) and is a threat on the breakout with his speed and puck skills.
D Radek Martinek (concussion); out for the season
LW Kristian Huselius (lower body); indefinitely
D Nikita Nikitin (lower body); indefinitely
D Marc Methot (jaw); indefinitely
RW Jared Boll (foot); week-to-week