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At the Rink: Predators at Sharks

by Eric Gilmore / NHL.com

SAN JOSE -- San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic will return to the lineup when they play the Nashville Predators at SAP Center on Saturday.

Vlasic missed the final two periods Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers and the game Thursday against the Minnesota Wild with an upper-body injury.

The Sharks won the two games, and coach Todd McLellan was asked what he learned about them during those victories minus Vlasic.

"To be honest, we learned that we want him back," McLellan said after the morning skate. "And that's not a shot at the rest of them. Marc-Edouard's just that solid. He means that much to our team, his presence out there, the way he carries himself in the locker room, his ability to play in all situations. He's essential, but the fact that we could pinch hit without him was a real positive. It gave some others an opportunity for ice time and we found ways to win. So that was important."

Vlasic said he's 100 percent healthy, and the Sharks need him against the stingy Predators and goaltender Pekka Rinne, who leads the NHL with 19 wins. Rinne has a 1.78 goals-against-average, .935 save percentage and three shutouts.

"They have one of the beset goalies in the League, one of the best teams right now," Vlasic said. "They don't give up much but they score a [heck] of a lot. We'll have to be very good, even better than we were last game."

Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi (11-7-3) will make his first start since Dec. 6 against the Calgary Flames. He was limited to backup duty the past two games after being hit by a puck in the morning skate Thursday. Alex Stalock (4-3-1) started the past three games after returning from arthroscopic knee surgery.

"Alex did a tremendous job coming in," McLellan said. "Hopefully we get back to where we can balance things out once both of them are completely healthy, which is today."

Rinne missed most of last season after undergoing hip surgery on Oct. 24, 2013, but he's fully recovered.

"It's tough being out for almost a full year, a full season, but I feel really good, feel like myself,' Rinne said. "Health-wise I'm 100 percent. That's the main thing. We take so many things for granted. When you're dealing with something like that, you really appreciate when you can play again. I'm just having a good time and enjoying a lot right now."

Sharks forward Joe Pavelski and Rinne played together for Dinamo Minsk of the Kontinental Hockey League during the NHL lockout two seasons ago and became good friends.

"He went through some tough times with his hip and it's good to see him back playing well," said Pavelski, who leads San Jose with 15 goals. "But, with that, we're going out to win tonight. The biggest thing with their team is it's a little different look for them. They're playing well, they're winning games and they're not giving up a whole lot.

"It will be very important for us to get to the net and create those second chances. He handles the puck well, he stops it for the most part, and you've got to get that traffic in front of him and get the rebound."

The Predators are 19-7-2 under new coach Peter Laviolette after a 5-1 victory Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes, reaching 40 points the fastest in their history. They've won the first two games of their three-game road trip and are 9-2-3 over their past 14 games at SAP Center.

"It would be big," Rinne said. "We've been extremely good at home. On the road we've been a little above .500, but kind of so-so. We've been playing well but a little more up and down on the road. That would be a really big thing to get our road record up there. And playing a team like San Jose, that would be nice to head home with three wins. But it's still a lot of work."

The Sharks have won five straight home games and six of their past seven overall.

"They're a dangerous team offensively," Laviolette said. "I think their forwards really present a challenge for us, for a lot of teams. Just the fact that their zone time and what they're able to do in the offensive zone really puts an onus on teams to be strong defensively."

Here are the projected lineups:

PREDATORS

Filip Forsberg - Mike Ribeiro - James Neal

Matt Cullen - Mike Fisher - Craig Smith

Colin Wilson - Calle Jarnkrok - Olli Jokinen

Eric Nystrom - Derek Roy - Gabriel Bourque

Roman Josi - Shea Weber

Ryan Ellis - Mattias Ekholm

Anton Volchenkov - Seth Jones

Pekka Rinne

Carter Hutton

Scratched: Victor Bartley

Injured: Taylor Beck (concussion), Viktor Stalberg (lower body), Paul Gaustad (lower body)

SHARKS

Tomas Hertl - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski

Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Tommy Wingels

Barclay Goodrow - James Sheppard - Melker Karlsson

Andrew Desjardins - Chris Tierney - Tye McGinn

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun

Brenden Dillon - Brent Burns

Scott Hannan - Matt Tennyson

Antti Niemi

Alex Stalock

Scratched: Mirco Mueller, Matt Irwin, John Scott

Injured: Raffi Torres (knee), Tyler Kennedy (shoulder), Mike Brown (lower body), Matt Nieto (ankle)

Status report: Gaustad was not on the ice for the morning skate and is expected to miss his second straight game. ... Brown was in a walking boot and on crutches. There's no target date for his return. ... Mueller took Vlasic's spot and was paired with Braun against Minnesota, but he'll be a healthy scratch.

Who's hot: Forsberg (12-17-29) leads the Predators and NHL rookies in points. ... Neal has a goal in each of his past two games. ... Pavelski has three goals in his past two games. ... Burns has a two-game goal streak and a three-game point streak.

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