CANUCKS (20-11-3) at SHARKS (19-12-5)
TV: SNP, CSN-CA
SAN JOSE -- San Jose Sharks forward Matt Nieto was activated from injured reserve and will be in the lineup Tuesday at SAP Center against the Vancouver Canucks.
Nieto hasn't played since Dec. 4 against the Boston Bruins when he sustained an ankle injury. He's missed the past nine games.
"The injury took a little longer to heal than expected, but I'm ready now," Nieto said. "I'm itching to get back in the lineup, and I'm ready to go and excited to be out there playing."
Nieto, who scored a goal in two of his past three games, will skate on the fourth line with center Andrew Desjardins and forward Micheal Haley. For most of the season he skated on the top three lines.
"Matt is a very good player and we need him in the lineup," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.
"Starting him with [Desjardins] is a spot where he fits right now. We like what the other lines are doing, or what they have done to this point over the last month. ... Matty hasn't played for a while. He's going to have to get his legs and his timing back. We'll use him penalty killing, maybe a little on the power play. He'll get his minutes."
McLellan made two other changes in his lineup. Defenseman Matt Irwin, a healthy scratch the past eight games, will play for the first time since Dec. 6 against the Calgary Flames. Backup goaltender Alex Stalock will start for the first time since Dec. 11 against the Minnesota Wild, a stretch of five games.
"I've been preparing every day like I'm going to get a chance to play and finally here it is tonight," said Irwin, who will replace Scott Hannan in the lineup. "I'm excited."
McLellan said Irwin earned the opportunity to play.
"He's worked extremely hard in practice," McLellan said. "He deserves the opportunity to go back in. His legs and his skating have improved in the time away from the games, which is a credit to him. And we'd like to think he can be a positive influence on the group."
The Sharks have back-to-back games, facing the Canucks at home and the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on Wednesday. Stalock will give No. 1 goaltender Antti Niemi a break Tuesday and Niemi will likely start against the Ducks.
In the past, Stalock has played well after long stretches on the bench.
"I think practice, staying sharp in practice and working hard," Stalock said. "We practice so hard and so fast that it keeps you at game speed. Obviously it isn't a game, at the same time, so the first five minutes are huge getting into it and following the puck."
The Sharks lost 3-1 to the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on Saturday in their first game after the Christmas break. The Canucks fell 2-1 to the Ducks on Sunday at Honda Center. Each team hopes to get back on track in an incredibly tight playoff race in the Western Conference.
In the Pacific Division, Vancouver, San Jose, Los Angeles and Calgary each has 43 points and trail first-place Anaheim by 11.
"You can't take any nights off," Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "These points are so important."
Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said he'll stick with the same lineup he used against Anaheim but could juggle his lines during the game.
"We have room for movement on all our lines, I guess," Desjardins said before Vancouver's optional skate. "I know that we need more. We just have to evaluate it game by game, but we have to find more."
Canucks forward Zack Kassian (finger) has yet to be cleared to play, but he was on the ice again and said he felt 100 percent healthy. He hopes he'll be in the lineup Thursday against the Kings at Rogers Arena
"I feel great," Kassian said. "I feel ready, ready to go, the best I've felt all year. I've had four weeks to work out, get stronger and skate."
Here are the projected lineups:
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Radim Vrbata
Chris Higgins - Nick Bonino - Derek Dorsett
Shawn Matthias - Brad Richardson - Linden Vey
Alexandre Burrows - Bo Horvat - Jannik Hansen
Alexander Edler - Christopher Tanev
Ryan Stanton - Kevin Bieksa
Luca Sbisa - Yannick Weber
Scratched: Tom Sestito, Bobby Sanguinetti
Injured: Dan Hamhuis (leg), Zack Kassian (finger)
Tomas Hertl - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Tommy Wingels
Barclay Goodrow - James Sheppard - Melker Karlsson
Matt Nieto - Andrew Desjardins - Micheal Haley
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon - Brent Burns
Matt Irwin - Matt Tennyson
Scratched: Scott Hannan, Tye McGinn
Suspended: John Scott
Injured: Raffi Torres (knee), Tyler Kennedy (shoulder), Mike Brown (lower body)
Status report: The Sharks reassigned rookie forward Chris Tierney to Worcester of the American Hockey League. This marks his second trip to Worcester this season. ... Miller, who made 34 saves in Vancouver's 3-2 victory at SAP Center on Nov. 6, will start again against the Sharks.
Who's hot: Burrows has a three-game point streak (2-2-4). ... Daniel Sedin leads the Canucks in points (30), is second in assists (22) and is tied for second in goals (8). ... Pavelski has a two-game goal streak and a three-game point streak (2-1-3). He leads the Sharks with 17 goals. ... Thornton has a three-game point streak (0-3-3), and leads the Sharks in points (31) and assists (23).