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Happy to finally be home, Sharks face Panthers

by Eric Gilmore / NHL.com

PANTHERS (6-5-5) at SHARKS (10-9-2)

TV: FS-F, CSN-CA

SAN JOSE -- After playing 16 of their first 21 games on the road, the San Jose Sharks open a six-game homestand Thursday against the Florida Panthers at SAP Center.

The road-weary Sharks (10-9-2) will play 11 of their next 13 games at home.

"Collectively, this is an important chunk of games for us, over the next six and then certainly over the next 13," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said after San Jose's morning skate. "This is a really important time for our team. We have to elevate our play. It has to be better than what it's been to this point in the season. We've got an opportunity to do it here at home."

The Sharks went 3-4-0 on their recent seven-game road trip, which ended Tuesday with a 4-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

Center Logan Couture went without a goal on the road trip, and forward Patrick Marleau didn't score in the final six games. McLellan said he hopes a long stretch of home games will help Couture and Marleau snap out of their goal-scoring slumps. But McLellan has also shuffled his lines in an attempt to spark them.

"We'll split them up and give them some different linemates," McLellan said. "Both of them are extremely talented players. They're playing with a high level of frustration right now, I think, in their game. … Can they be cleaner, more involved, around the net a little bit more and coming through the neutral zone with the puck? Yeah, they certainly can. So hopefully shuffling the lines and getting here at home will make them more productive players."

Marleau will swap lines with Joe Pavelski and skate with center Joe Thornton and forward Tomas Hertl. Couture will center Pavelski and Matt Nieto.

"The chances are there," Marleau said. "We just have to find a way to get across the line. When they go in, they usually start going in in buckets. Just got to make sure we don't get frustrated and down on ourselves and keep working for those opportunities."

Marleau has spent most of the season skating with Couture, but he's spent plenty of time with Thornton during his career.

"We've had some chemistry in the past," Marleau said. "Hopefully we can pick up where we left off."

The Sharks suffered a 4-1 loss to the Panthers on the third stop of their seven-game road trip. Jimmy Hayes, Aleksander Barkov, Derek MacKenzie and Tomas Fleischmann each scored a goal in the Panthers victory.

"We played a real good high-tempo game that night," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "That was probably our best complete game of the season, against them, and it will have to be the same tonight. They're a real good club. When we played 60 minutes the way we played against San Jose, it was our best performance of the year, and we're going to need that again."

Barkov (flu) will return to the lineup after missing the Panthers' 5-2 loss Thursday to the Los Angeles Kings. After missing four games, defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (knee) will return to the lineup.

"Obviously it wasn't as bad as everybody thought at first," Kulikov said of his injury. "I came back much faster than they anticipated."

Forward Scottie Upshall (lower body), who missed the third period against the Kings, won't play against San Jose. Gallant called Upshall's injury minor and said he is day-to-day.

Here are the projected lineups:

PANTHERS

Jonathan Huberdeau - Nick Bjugstad - Brad Boyes

Jussi Jokinen - Vincent Trocheck - Jimmy Hayes

Tomas Fleischmann - Aleksander Barkov - Rocco Grimaldi

Tomas Kopecky - Derek MacKenzie - Shawn Thornton

Willie Mitchell - Aaron Ekblad

Brian Campbell - Dmitry Kulikov

Dylan Olsen - Erik Gudbranson

Roberto Luongo

Al Montoya

Scratched: Colby Robak, Sean Bergenheim

Injured: Dave Bolland (groin), Brandon Pirri (concussion), Scottie Upshall (lower body)

SHARKS

Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Tomas Hertl

Matt Nieto - Logan Couture - Joe Pavelski

Barclay Goodrow - James Sheppard - Tommy Wingels

Tye McGinn - Andrew Desjardins - Tyler Kennedy

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun

Scott Hannan - Brent Burns

Mirco Mueller - Jason Demers

Antti Niemi

Troy Grosenick

Scratched: Matt Irwin, Adam Burish, John Scott

Injured: Raffi Torres (right knee), Mike Brown (left hand), Alex Stalock (left knee)

Status report: Mueller and Demers will be paired together from the outset of a game for the first time this season, although they have skated a few shifts together. Mueller had been skating primarily with Burns. … Burish, who has a team-high 33 penalty minutes, is expected to be a healthy scratch for the second time this season and the second time in five games. … Based on line rushes at the morning skate, Kopecky will likely drop from the third to the fourth line, trading places with Fleischman. … Grimaldi will be in the lineup for the second straight game after being recalled from San Antonio of the American Hockey League, but he'll move from center to right wing.

Who's hot: Ekblad has two goals and eight points over his past eight games. With 10 points, he ranks second on the team. … Jokinen leads the Panthers with 12 points and owns a four-game point streak. … Burns ranks second among NHL defensemen with 18 points He has seven goals, one behind Pavelski's team-high eight, and 11 assists, tied for second on the team. … Joe Thornton, who had 11 goals in 82 games last season, has already scored seven goals in 21 games.

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