When Wednesday comes, the Sharks will be facing the team that stopped them from their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance: the Chicago Blackhawks. Much will be made of the rematch, even though the two clubs don’t rank first and second in the conference.
“I think a lot are going to look back and say this is a rematch, but I tend to live in the present,” Head Coach Todd McLellan said. “I see our team as a team that has some work to do. The team that played in May against the Blackhawks, we haven’t reached that level yet. We have for moments, but we haven’t sustained it and we’re striving to get back there.”
McLellan held a strong practice on Monday to start ramping his club back up.
“Can we elevate our play? I believe we can,” McLellan said. “Our players have to accept the fact they have to work and grind it out for 60 minutes, 82 times a year. They can’t be waiting and say they want to turn it on later. We know how to do it and often when we’re behind, we revert back to doing it the right way. We’re not prepared to do it all the time and we’re fighting that battle.”
Right now the Sharks leader in plus/minus with a plus-7 rating is blueliner Kent Huskins.
“He’s not the flashiest player, he’s not the guy who is going to catch your eye going end-to-end, but he does a lot of the little things well,” McLellan said. “He‘s one of our best defenseman at going back and retrieving pucks and initiating breakouts. He’s prepared to play in the physical area and that’s a reflection of his plus/minus.”
The Sharks forwards who battle him every practice know the plus/minus rating should not be a surprise.
“Until you play against him and realize the little intricacies of what he does, it’s hard to appreciate him, but our guys do,” McLellan said.
Annti Niemi was the focus of the Chicago media following practice. This will mark Niemi’s first game against his former team, the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Niemi noted he may have dinner with a couple of players, much like most other players do when former teammates hit town, but isn’t looking at the game itself as bigger than other contest.
“It’s not that big,” Niemi said of the reunion.
Niemi said winning the Stanley Cup may be more important than just being labeled a champion as the obstacles he experienced last year could help the Sharks overcome their obstacles this year.
“I got lots of confidence out of it,” Niemi said. “If there are tough times, you know can do it.”
Niemi’s numbers aren’t at last year’s pace, but that fits in with how his teammates are playing at this time.
“It probably matches that of our team,” McLellan said of Niemi’s play. “I don’t’ think he’s worked his play up to that level he was in the playoffs. As a result, he’s not as confident as he was then. That doesn’t mean he can’t get there and isn’t working towards it. At this point, he’s probably our hardest working player which is a really good sign. He’s putting a lot of time into his game. I do believe from the last outings he’s been involved in he’s getting more confident and getting better.”
McLellan’s pattern with naming his starting goaltender is to alert them the day before and then acknowledge it to the outside world after the morning skate.
“Potentially,” McLellan said when asked directly about Niemi getting the nod. “That chance exists.”
BACK END CHANGES
McLellan noted that while Douglas Murray
could be making his return after missing four games, San Jose could be without Jason Demers
. The young blueliner was injured in the Columbus game and didn’t return to ice. Murray’s return definitely provides a necessary hockey element to the Sharks.
“He’s a really valuable player for us,” McLellan said. “The physical level and intensity level go up when Douglas Murray
is in the lineup. He has the ability to do that and that’s his strength. It’s in around our net and in the open ice area. I don’t know if there was as much of a threat when he wasn’t in the lineup.”
Demers will be out due to an upper body injury he suffered in the last contest.
“Jason won’t play Wednesday,” McLellan said. “He’s going to be out for a little while. We’ll miss Jason, but it will give (Derek) Joslin more time to find his game.”
McLellan stated the possibility of Demers accompanying his teammates on their Thanksgiving weekend trip to Canada.
Following practice, select Sharks players took part in the filming of the annual electronic holiday greeting card.
San Jose will play hosts to Chicago Wednesday at 7:30 and the game will be on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com. Tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.sjsharks.com.