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Irwin returns to Sharks lineup, determined to stay

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- San Jose Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin was a near constant in the lineup last season as a rookie, skating with veteran Dan Boyle. Irwin scored six goals, had six assists and earned a two-year contract for his impressive play.

This season Irwin hit the first nasty speed bump of his young career. After going without a goal in the Sharks' first 13 games, he was a healthy scratch for three straight, returned for one game, then sat the past six.

Irwin will return to the lineup Wednesday when the Sharks face the Los Angeles Kings at SAP Center and will be paired with Boyle.

"It's been a while since I've played," Irwin said after the Sharks' morning skate. "I've been chomping at the bit the get back out there, obviously, and help the team. Now that I've got my opportunity, I've got to seize the moment and keep it simple and play my game."

Irwin said he understands what he needs to do to stay in the lineup.

"I think the big thing is just making the easy first play," Irwin said. "The first play is usually the best play. When I get into trouble I hold onto the puck too much and try to maybe force things to see what maybe the second or third option might be. The game's too fast, and by then it's taken away. I got to just shoot the puck and move the puck and I'll be fine."

Sharks coach Todd McLellan said it was time to get Irwin back into the lineup.

"He shoots the puck a lot. He gives our power play a little bit of a pop," McLellan said. "We'll give him that opportunity."

Boyle said being benched for nine of the past 10 games might wind up helping Irwin in the long run.

"You get a thicker skin," Boyle said. "I've been through it. A lot of guys go through it. That's where you have to rely on yourself a lot and trust in your abilities, try not to get too clogged up on what's going up here," he said, pointing to his head.

While he's been out of the lineup, Irwin has worked overtime during practice, getting help from associate coach Larry Robinson and assistant coach Jim Johnson, former NHL defensemen.

"You just got to take care of yourself and work hard in practice," Irwin said. "Get out there early, stay out there late and work on the little things that make me successful. Larry and Jimmy, they worked with me over the last two weeks or whatever it's been. It's been good. It's been, I think, beneficial to my game and hopefully it pays off."

With Irwin in the lineup, Jason Demers will be a healthy scratch for the first time this season.

Irwin and the Sharks will face a Kings team that has recorded points in 10 straight games, one off the franchise record shared by the 1973-74 and 2010-11 teams. They've gone 5-0-2 with backup goaltender Ben Scrivens starting for injured Jonathan Quick (groin).

"We all know there's always room for improvement, but we do believe we're on the right path to get to the next level," Kings center Anze Kopitar said.

The winner of this game will move into a tie with the Anaheim Ducks for first place in the powerful Pacific Division with 37 points. Based on recent history in the series, the Sharks have to like their chances. They've won six straight regular-season home games against Los Angeles. Including the playoffs, San Jose's home streak against Los Angeles stands at nine.

The Kings haven't won a regular-season game at San Jose since Dec. 27, 2010. Their last win at San Jose came in Game 5 of a first-round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 23, 2011.

The Sharks have lost seven straight games at Staples Center, including four last season in a 4-3 Western Conference Semifinal loss to the Kings. Los Angeles beat San Jose 4-3 in overtime on Oct. 30 at Staples when the teams met for the first time this season.

"I think it's just the teams' home mentalities," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "They have a really good home mentality, and we do at home as well. Every game we play against them can go either way, and it's just a matter of a team finding the break and creating the breaks."

McLellan said he expects another close game.

"They're one-goal games, they're tight battles," McLellan said. "Every minute of all 60 count or 65 or whatever it might be. I don't know what the difference is in the two buildings. I just think the two teams are that evenly matched. Perhaps last change, matchups, faceoffs, even having your stick down. They seem to be very good in their building. We seem to be good in ours.

"L.A. has tremendous fans. They show up and they're loud and the give their team a lift, and ours do the exact same. So that seventh man isn't talked about probably enough in both buildings."

Here are the projected lineups for Los Angeles and San Jose:


Tomas Hertl - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns

Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Tommy Wingels

Tyler Kennedy - Joe Pavelski - Martin Havlat

James Sheppard - Andrew Desjardins - Mike Brown

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun

Matt Irwin - Dan Boyle

Scott Hannan - Brad Stuart

Antti Niemi

Alex Stalock

Scratched: Matt Pelech, Jason Demers, John McCarthy

Injured: Raffi Torres (knee surgery), Adam Burish (back surgery)


Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams

Dwight King - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter

Dan Carcillo - Jarret Stoll - Jordan Nolan

Kyle Clifford - Linden Vey - Tyler Toffoli

Jake Muzzin - Drew Doughty

Robyn Regehr - Slava Voynov

Alec Martinez - Willie Mitchell

Ben Scrivens

Martin Jones

Scratched: Tanner Pearson, Colin Fraser

Injured: Trevor Lewis (lower body), Matt Frattin (lower body), Jonathan Quick (groin), Matt Greene (upper body)

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