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At the Rink: Blue Jackets at Sharks

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- After having four days off and spending the past three in San Jose, the well-rested Columbus Blue Jackets will continue their four-game road trip on Thursday against the road weary San Jose Sharks at SAP Center.

Columbus will play the Anaheim Ducks on Friday and the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday before returning home.

"I think we're all itching to get back and play," Columbus coach Todd Richards said after the Blue Jackets' morning skate. "It will be a great test. It starts with San Jose [Thursday]. Can't look past anything, but it will be a tough game against Anaheim and then you got L.A. Nine tough periods of hockey, and it starts with a good San Jose team."

The Blue Jackets arrived in San Jose on Monday and have spent the past three days practicing, resting and bonding. The Sharks, meanwhile, finished a five-game East Coast road trip Tuesday at Boston.

"I've got some friends on the [Columbus] team," Sharks forward Adam Burish said. "I've talked to them. They've had some dinners and hung out. They're probably sitting here ready and fresh. I know they've done some team [building] stuff the last couple days. Hopefully a lot of team stuff so they're a little tired [Thursday]."

The Sharks didn't practice Wednesday, but the question is whether they'll be able to match Columbus' energy after a long road trip.

"People say these games can be dangerous coming back from a long trip," Burish said. "It's mental. You have to mentally focus in."

During their first seven games, Sharks coach Todd McLellan alternated goaltenders Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock, but that pattern will end against Columbus when Niemi makes his second straight start.

"I don't know what's the big plan so you got to be ready every day," Niemi said. "They might tell you you're going tomorrow. You got to be ready for anything. Not really a surprise. You knew at some point someone was going to play back-to-back games of course. You're not going to play 82 games back and forth."

Sharks rookie defenseman Mirco Mueller will be a healthy scratch for the second straight game. McLellan was asked if the Sharks still had a decision to make on whether to send him to the Western Hockey League after the ninth game or keep him in the NHL.

"I'm not answering these questions anymore," McLellan said. "I haven't justified in six years who we play and why we play them, so don't ask them anymore. By the way, Mirco's not going anywhere."

Richards made a few changes to his lineup. Defenseman Cody Goloubef will make his season debut, replacing Dalton Prout. Forward Adam Cracknell will make his first appearance for the Blue Jackets since being claimed off waivers Oct. 7 from the Kings.

"We want to get Cody into a game, and Dalton can be better," Richards said. "We just need him to be better."

Scott Hartnell will replace Cam Atkinson on the top line and skate with center Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno. Alexander Wennberg, who had been playing on the wing, will center the second line between Atkinson and Matt Calvert.

"That's how we finished the game [Saturday] in Ottawa," Richards said.

Here are the projected lineups:


Scott Hartnell - Ryan Johansen - Nick Foligno

Matt Calvert - Alexander Wennberg - Cam Atkinson

Mark Letestu - Artem Anisimov - Jack Skille

Adam Cracknell - Michael Chaput - Jared Boll

Jack Johnson - David Savard

Fedor Tyutin - Cody Goloubef

Tim Erixon - James Wisniewski

Sergei Bobrovsky

Anton Forsberg

Scratched: Dalton Prout, Corey Tropp, Marko Dano

Injured: Curtis McElhinney (head/neck), Nathan Horton (back), Ryan Murray (knee), Boone Jenner (hand), Brandon Dubinsky (abdominal surgery)


Matt Nieto - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski

Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Tommy Wingels

Eriah Hayes - James Sheppard - Tomas Hertl

Tye McGinn - Adam Burish - Andrew Desjardins

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun

Matt Irwin - Brent Burns

Scott Hannan - Jason Demers

Antti Niemi

Alex Stalock

Scratched: Chris Tierney, John Scott, Mirco Mueller

Injured: Barclay Goodrow (left hand), Tyler Kennedy (upper body), Mike Brown (hand), Raffi Torres (right knee)

Status report: Richards said that centering the second line against San Jose will be a good test for Wennberg, but he wasn't sure if he'd finish the game at center. ... After being a healthy scratch against Boston, McGinn will return to the lineup, on the fourth line, replacing Scott. ... Hayes moved from the fourth to the third line, swapping lines with Desjardins.

Who's hot: Couture is coming off a season-high two-goal game against the Boston Bruins and has six points overall. ... Marleau leads the Sharks in goals (four) and points (nine). ... Burns leads the Sharks in assists with seven and has at least one point in six of the first seven games. ... Johansen is tied with Foligno for the Blue Jackets lead in points with seven and tied with Atkinson for the lead in goals with three. ... Foligno leads the Blue Jackets with five assists. ... Two of Atkinson's three goals were game-winners.

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