DETROIT – The San Jose Sharks have been on a roll lately, going 7-2-1 in the last 10 games. However, their recent seven-game winning streak came during a lengthy homestand, taking advantage of favorable matchups that they wanted.
The Sharks own the best home record in the league this season, but on the road they’ve been less impressive, posting a 6-11-2 mark away from HP Pavilion. They’re currently on a four-game road trip, which began Tuesday with an uninspired 4-0 loss at Columbus.
Now, the Sharks, who are in the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings, and just one-point out of hosting a first-round playoff series, come to Detroit for a game that could jumble the playoff order even more.
Thursday’s game is important for the Red Wings, who must take care of business at home with just four regular-season games left at Joe Louis Arena.
“You always want to play well at home,” said Valtteri Filppula, who has been taken off the wing and will play his first game this season as the third-line center. “Definitely would be a good start to get a home win and then go on the road and hopefully get some confidence and get some wins on the road.”
The Red Wings can benefit by taking a page out of the Blue Jackets’ playbook from Tuesday night when they caused havoc for the Sharks by getting an abundance of traffic in front of net and chasing goalie Antti Niemi early in the third period.
Niemi always plays great against Detroit with a career 9-2-2 record with a 1.81 goal-against average and three shutouts.
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall agreed, the Wings need to get bodies in front of the Sharks’ net if they hope to get pucks past Niemi.
“Getting a lot of traffic, a lot of pucks in there, I think that’s the biggest key because we have to make it harder on him that way,” Kronwall said. “Try to make him not see so many pucks. But at the same time they’ve been playing really well defensively, making it hard on the other team, making it really tight, so we have to do a good job of getting through the middle and get more bodies in front.”
But getting through the middle won’t be easy against the Sharks’ formidable defensive unit, which including Kronwall’s former D-partner Brad Stuart.
“Stuey is one of those guys that you always want on your side,” Kronwall said. “He’s one of the hardest working guys that you will ever meet. He plays really hard and we kind of know what to expect from him. We know that he’s going to be all over the place and getting those hard minutes that he does. He’s a big, physical key for their team, no doubt.”
A key for the Red Wings might be in the rest that they’ve been able to enjoy with three days off between games this week.
“It’s been a tough month,” Kronwall said. “It’s been a lot of travel, so hopefully we can kind of reset everything and come back more energized, and be ready to go, because we’re coming down to the wire here and it’s going to be so tight all the way through.”
PLAYER TO WATCH
Center - SJS
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 28 | PTS: 35
SOG: 67 | +/-: 4
C JOE THORNTON – Once again, Jumbo Joe is enjoying another very productive year as a top-flight playmaking center. But after Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to the Blue Jackets, Thornton, who is now without a point in three straight games, blamed himself for the team’s dismal performance. “Tough night for our line and we've got to be better,” Thornton told the San Jose Mercury News. “Speaking for my personal game, I've got to tighten up and get better. If I do that, the other guys will follow.” Thornton still leads the Sharks in scoring with 35 points, including 28 assists, But Tuesday, the London, Ontario, native was limited to a season-low 10:30 of ice-time while skating on a line with Marty Havlat and Brent Burns, the 6-foot-5 defenseman, who has served as a forward on a few occasions this season. … In 37 career games against the Red Wings, Thornton has amassed 35 points with 13 goals and 22 assists.
Season Series: 1-1-0
2011-12 Season Series: 1-2-1
All-Time Series Season: 51-24-4-2
San Jose’s Season Record: 20-12-7
Top Scorer vs. Red Wings: Joe Thornton – 3 Goals, 5 Assists in 6 Games.
Red Wings’ Top Scorer – Pavel Datsyuk – 1 Goal, 3 Assists in 6 Games.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
Tickets to this game and all 3 remaining regular-season contests at The Joe are currently available for purchase at the JLA box office (313-396-7575), all Ticketmaster (800-745-3000) outlets, and online at DetroitRedWings.com.