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Blue Jackets take on Sharks, go for two in a row

by Brian Hunter
SHARKS (24-11-5) at BLUE JACKETS (12-26-5)


Last 10:
San Jose 7-1-2; Columbus 3-6-1

Season Series:
Second of four meetings this season. Joe Thornton scored the decisive goal as the Sharks claimed a 2-1 victory on Jan. 5 at HP Pavilion. Thomas Greiss stopped 23 shots for San Jose, while Curtis Sanford turned in a 37-save effort for Columbus.

Big Story:
While the NHL reached its official midway point at the end of Monday night's action, San Jose doesn't play its 41st game until Saturday. No team has played fewer games (Boston also plays its 41st game Saturday), and yet the Sharks are not only in first place in the Pacific Division but challenging for the Western Conference lead. They're also sending coach Todd McLellan to the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game later this month in Ottawa by virtue of having the best points percentage in the West.

Team Scope:

Sharks: Coming off a tough shootout loss in Minnesota two nights earlier to begin a four-game road trip, San Jose rebounded with a stifling defensive effort Thursday night in Winnipeg. Logan Couture opened the scoring in the game with 6:24 left in the second period and Brad Winchester added insurance 2:23 into the third, which turned out to be more than enough support for Antti Niemi in net. Niemi made 24 saves in the 2-0 win for his 15th career shutout and eighth with the Sharks.

"There were some shots, but I think we played a very, very good game in front of our net," Niemi said. "We were able to get the rebounds and not let them come too close to the net." 

Blue Jackets:
One of the hopes when Columbus replaced Scott Arniel behind the bench with Todd Richards was that the new coach might be able to get young forward Derick Brassard going again. In Richards' home coaching debut for the Blue Jackets on Friday night, Brassard scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal and also had an assist in a 4-3 victory over the Coyotes. In addition, Tomas Kubalik and Ryan Russell each scored his first NHL goal, while captain Rick Nash tallied as well to earn Richards his first win with the club.

"I just had fun on the ice. When I have fun and I can play my game, I think I can be pretty effective," Brassard said. "That's what I did tonight. I didn't do anything different. I felt like I had trust from my teammates and coach. I just started to play my game and everything went fine."

Who's Hot:
Niemi is on an 8-1-4 run over his last 13 starts and has allowed two goals or less in seven of his last 10 games. Couture has goals in consecutive games. … Nash has 3 goals in as many games. Brassard has 2 goals and 2 assists in his last four games. Defenseman Aaron Johnson has 4 assists in his last three games.

Injury Report:
San Jose defensemen Jim Vandermeer (upper body) and Colin White (lower body) and forward Martin Havlat (hamstring) are on injured reserve. …Columbus placed forward Ryan Carter on injured reserve Friday with a shoulder injury. RJ Umberger missed Friday's game with concussion-like symptoms. Defensemen Radek Martinek (concussion) and James Wisniewski (ankle) and forwards Kristian Huselius (groin) and Mark Letestu (hand) are also on injured reserve.

Stat Pack:
Couture, the Sharks' lone All-Star representative other than McLellan, is in the top 20 in the NHL with 18 goals. … Umberger's consecutive games streak ended at 288 games, a franchise record for the Blue Jackets. He had never missed a game with the club and had an overall streak of 291 straight games dating back to when he played for the Flyers. It was the fifth-longest active streak in the League.

Puck Drop:
San Jose general manager Doug Wilson appeared as a guest on Commissioner Gary Bettman's weekly radio program Thursday night and talked about what he hopes to see from the team going forward.

"Like most of the teams you're just trying to find that consistency, because the parity in this League, there's no easy games, particularly in the Western Conference," Wilson said. "Right now we're playing the way Todd McLellan, our coach, wants us to play, but we know the second half's going to be even tougher for us."

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