WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets have had their share of challenges this season, and the San Jose Sharks will present another test when the teams meet Sunday.
The Sharks (10-2-4) arrived in Winnipeg on Saturday to begin preparing for a five game-road trip. San Jose is winless in its past four games and lost a 4-2 home decision to the Vancouver Canucks this past Thursday. Coach Todd McLellan was not happy with his team’s work ethic against the Canucks, and he has made bringing that work ethic back to its previous standard a point of emphasis leading into the game against Winnipeg.
Sharks center Joe Thornton pointed to a need to put together a better start against the Jets, something that the Sharks have struggled to do recently, but said San Jose’s problems are not alarming to the Sharks’ dressing room.
“Everybody is fine,” Thornton said after the Sharks’ morning skate. “We’re a pretty even-keeled group. We don’t get too high or too low. Everybody is just focusing on [Sunday] and ready to go.”
But McLellan wants to see a change against the Jets, and he is looking for the Sharks to improve their speed against a good-skating Winnipeg team.
“It’s a big night for us,” McLellan said. “We’re probably a little bit more concerned about what we’re doing right now than what Winnipeg or any of our other opponents are doing. We’ve got to get our own house in order before we start worrying about what our opponents are doing.
“We’re having our bump in the road. Good teams figure out ways to clean that up real quickly. They rely on their leadership group in the [dressing room] and the work ethic spread out among everybody, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Brett Burns (upper body), who has missed eight games, participated in the Sharks’ morning skate but will not play Sunday. Defenseman Matt Irwin, a healthy scratch for the past three games, is a candidate to return to play if McLellan opts to alter his defensive pairings.
The Jets (7-9-2) have battled their own consistency issues all season. Winnipeg defeated the Nashville Predators 5-0 at home Friday two nights after the Chicago Blackhawks beat them 4-1 on the road. The Jets lack the size down the middle that San Jose possesses, and coach Claude Noel said that it may be a by-committee effort that is needed to slow down the Sharks.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us,” Noel said. “They potentially have the best [centers] in the League as far as [Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Thornton].”
Noel indicated that the Jets’ third defensive pairing of Keaton Ellerby (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and Adam Pardy (6-5, 220) might be a candidate to see more ice time to help counter San Jose’s size down the middle.
“We’re going to have to see how it goes,” Noel said.
McLellan will start Antti Niemi in net. Niemi has allowed four goals in three of his past four outings, and McLellan pulled him against Vancouver after another four-goal night. Noel will again turn to Ondrej Pavelec. Pavelec’s shutout against Nashville was his first since March 1, 2012.
Here are the probable lineups for the Sharks and Jets on Sunday:
Tomas Hertl - Joe Thornton - Tommy Wingels
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat
Tyler Kennedy - Joe Pavelski - Matthew Nieto
James Sheppard - Andrew Desjardins - Mike Brown
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun
Brad Stuart - Dan Boyle
Scott Hannan - Jason Demers
Scratched: Matt Irwin, John McCarthy
Injured: Brent Burns (head), Raffi Torres (knee), Adam Burish (back)
Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Olli Jokinen - Devin Setoguchi
Matt Halischuk - Mark Scheifele - Michael Frolik
Eric Tangradi - James Wright - Chris Thorburn
Grant Clitsome - Dustin Byfuglien
Tobias Enstrom - Zach Bogosian
Adam Pardy - Keaton Ellerby
Scratched: Anthony Peluso
Injured: Paul Postma (blood clot), Jim Slater (sports hernia), Mark Stuart (hip), Jacob Trouba (upper body)