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Injuries force Sharks to shake up defense

by Eric Gilmore
SAN JOSE -- After his team's defensive meltdown in Saturday night's 5-3 loss to Florida, Sharks coach Todd McLellan considered shaking up his blue line. Now he has no choice.

Defenseman Douglas Murray will miss Tuesday night's game against the Minnesota Wild with an upper-body injury, McLellan said after the Sharks' optional morning skate at HP Pavilion. Murray missed the previous two practices and had his right hand heavily wrapped.

Murray is typically in the top pairing with Dan Boyle. His absence will force McLellan to make multiple changes.

"They'll be all over the map," McLellan said of his defensive corps. "We'll start a certain way, and until we find something we like we'll move them around. We practiced (Monday) with some pairs that we'll likely start with. Then we'll move from there."

Based on Monday's practice, the Sharks will likely begin the game with Marc-Edouard Vlasic paired with Boyle, Brent Burns with Jim Vandermeer and Jason Demers with Colin White. Justin Braun, who was recalled Tuesday from Worcester, is another option. McLellan said he might dress seven defensemen against Minnesota.

"Everybody's pretty comfortable playing with everybody," Demers said. "With Cranky out, it throws a little bit of a wrinkle into things. Guys are just going to have to step up and take that role because those are big shoes to fill for sure."

If Braun is in the lineup, McLellan said he wants to "see him play his game" against Minnesota.

"What is that? He's a very good retrieval guy," McLellan said. "He goes back and gets the puck and initiates breakouts. He's got a tremendous shot and can get it through to the net. So we want to see him use that. He's a big man. He can be physical when he has to be. We sent him down after the L.A. game (Nov. 28) just to get some games under his belt. We weren't going to use him in the Montreal game (Dec. 1). So it would be another week of him watching. He was able to get three games in, which is going to polish him up a little."

With or without Murray, the Sharks know they can't afford another turnover-filled effort against Minnesota, which enters Tuesday night's game with an NHL-best 37 points. The Wild have won 14 of their past 18 games and four straight road games. In its past three road wins, Minnesota overcame two-goal deficits. The Wild have 11 wins this season after giving up the first goal.

"No, it's not the plan," Wild coach Mike Yeo said of falling behind early. "We'd like to try getting the first goal a little more frequently. But certainly the plan is to stay with it. Regardless of whether we score or they score, we have to continue to go out and play our game shift after shift.

"We preach it all the time. It doesn't matter what the score is. It doesn't matter if we're up 3-1 or they're up 3-1 or what period we're in or how the momentum of the game has shifted. We want to go out and play our game, and we have to. Because we still haven't built it yet. I think we have a good understanding of what our game is, but as far as a group, we're still trying to create our identity. We're still trying to really forge our foundation as a team."

The Sharks and Wild will meet at HP Pavilion for the second and final time this season. San Jose beat the Wild 3-1 on Nov. 10, the Sharks' eighth win in a 10-game stretch. This time, the Sharks have lost three of their past four games, including Saturday's night's defensive debacle. Florida scored three times in the second period, taking advantage of turnovers by Boyle, Burns and White. Instead of getting their scheduled day off Sunday, the Sharks held a rugged practice.

"They're going to be hungry," Wild forward and ex-Shark Dany Heatley said. "Lost a few so they're going to be ready to go tonight, and we're going pretty good right now. So it should be a good one."

The Wild will have Josh Harding in net again, Yeo said. He came off the bench in Friday night's 4-2 win against New Jersey when Niklas Backstrom suffered a minor groin injury. Harding started Sunday's 5-3 win at Anaheim. Although Backstrom took part in Tuesday morning's skate, Yeo said that Matt Hackett would likely back up up Harding again.

Yeo said he always "looks for a reason" why his team's opponent will be at its best, but he didn't have to search hard this time.

"Certainly we're expecting a team to come out very well prepared, very hungry, very determined," Yeo said. "And on top of that, this is just a really good team that we're playing. So we're going to have to be sharp."

Wild winger Casey Wellman certainly won't lack motivation against the Sharks. He grew up in the Bay Area and played for the San Jose Junior Sharks, occasionally taking part in youth games during intermission at Sharks games.

This will be Wellman's first NHL game at the Shark Tank and will mark the first time his parents – Jodi and Brand Wellman, a former San Francisco Giants infielder – will see him play professionally. He expects to have around 20 family members at the game.

"I'm really excited about it," said Wellman.

Wellman is one of only four active NHL players born in California and one of 27 in League history.

"People always ask me where I'm from," Wellman said. "I tell them I'm from California. They don't believe I'm a hockey player. It's great to be a part of this. I used to play at the intermission here when I was a mite. It's good to play the real thing."

Wellman will see at least one familiar face on the Sharks. He played hockey with Braun at UMass Amherst and stayed with him at his mother's house in Minnesota last summer, sleeping in a room in the basement.

"It was two rooms. The back one was his," Wellman said. "I just had a little futon in the little room before his. He actually just bought a place, so next summer we'll be moving into that thing. I've already picked out a room."

When the Sharks and Wild met earlier this season, it marked the first game between the two teams since they made three trades with each other during the offseason, including two huge deals. The Sharks sent Devin Setoguchi to Minnesota as part of a package for Burns. They traded Heatley to the Wild for Martin Havlat.

After an emotional reunion game, it's been business as usual for the ex-Sharks and ex-Wild.

"Now it's out of the way," Setoguchi said of his first game at the Shark Tank since being traded. "It's just another road game. It's always fun coming back. Hopefully this time we can get a couple points out of here."

Here are the possible lineups for Tuesday night's game between the San Jose Sharks and Minnesota Wild at HP Pavilion:


Patrick MarleauJoe ThorntonJoe Pavelski

Ryane CloweLogan CoutureMartin Havlat

Jamie McGinnMichal HandzusTorrey Mitchell

Brad WinchesterAndrew DesjardinsAndrew Murray

Dan BoyleMarc-Edouard Vlasic

Brent BurnsJim Vandermeer

Jason DemersColin White

Antti Niemi


Devin SetoguchiMikko KoivuDany Heatley

Pierre-Marc BouchardMatt CullenCasey Wellman

Nick JohnsonKyle BrodziakCal Clutterbuck

Darroll PoweCody AlmondBrad Staubitz

Nick SchultzMike Lundin

Greg ZanonClayton Stoner

Jared SpurgeonMarco Scandella

Josh Harding
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