The Sharks come to the Bell Centre today to face the Habs and they view it as part of a three-game stretch that will give them an idea of what kind of team they are. They play the Red Wings on Monday and the Flyers on Wednesday.
“You like to see where your
team is early on in the season. Game 24 or 25, it’s a good test,” Sharks
captain Joe Thornton told David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News after Friday’s practice.
“After those three games, we can look ourselves in the mirror and know
if we’re a good hockey team or not.”
The Sharks come off an impressive 4-0 win in Ottawa on Thursday, a game that had something of a highly charged atmosphere because of Dany Heatley’s return to town. Heatley played well, but the star of the game was rookie Logan Couture, who played junior in Ottawa for the ’67s, He scored twice in the third period, the first multi-goal game of his NHL career. He now has 10 on the season, the top number among all NHL rookies, and will be a Calder Trophy candidate if he keeps that up all season.
Patrick Marleau got the first goal and rookie defenseman Justin Braun was credited with the second.
Antti Niemi got the sixth shutout of his young career, and you’ll remember him as the Blackhawks Stanley Cup winning goalie last year. He’s had an inconsistent beginning to his Sharks career this fall, and has been sharing the duties with former Flyer and Lightning netminder Antero Niittymaki. But Niemi will be in goal today, a reward for his performance in Ottawa in which he stopped all 28 Senators shots.
In fact, the Sharks were pleased as a whole with their game Thursday, which defenceman Douglas Murray said “was the
first time all season that we played well in most areas — whether it’s
the defense taking care of the puck or getting the save at the right
time, being smart, being effective on the power play and penalty kill.”
The Sharks have been dealing with injuries, especially to their defence corps. Kent Huskins, Niclas Wallin and Jason Demers have all been out, but Wallin and Demers have been skating and there’s a chance Demers will play today. When all three were out of the lineup earlier this week, the Red Wings were able to take advantage of three call-ups on the Sharks blueline, Braun, Derek Joslin and Mike Moore. The Sens don’t have that kind of offensive strength, but the Habs offense could exploit that inexperience on the Sharks.
Of course, San Jose still has some formidable defencemen in Murray, Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Boyle’s three goals and 19 points is the eighth best mark among all NHL defencemen.
Winger Devin Setoguchi has missed the last three games with an upper body injury. A good goal scorer, who notched 31 two years ago and 20 last year, he’s only had two this season. He was part of the Sharks strong second line during last year’s playoffs with winger Ryan Clowe and center Joe Pavelski.
But with Setoguchi struggling and Pavelski sporting a minus-9 rating, Coach Todd McLellan has put Clowe and Couture together recently with Benn Ferriero while Pavelski is teamed with Jamie McGinn and Torrey Mitchell. John McCarthy, Scott Nichol and Jamal Mayers are the fourth unit, but McLellan mixes his lines up a lot and when things go according to plan, gives them all equal ice time
No one questions the Sharks top line’s ability to put the puck in the net, with Marleau, Heatley and Thornton always dangerous. Speed is not their main weapon as a threesome, but they are big, strong and excellent at controlling the puck in the offensive zone and lethal on the power play. There have been games this season when they look like the best line in the NHL.
But, like all the Sharks, they have not played at their best with any regularity. Marleau is a dreadful minus-11 and McLellan breaks them up on occasion too. Pavelski, Marleau and Couture, for example, played together against the Red Wings on Tuesday (and they were all minus-3).
There will likely be some extra incentive in the game for local boys Demers, Vlasic and Mitchell (see Stu Cowan’s Gazette story). And Couture’s parents, who watched him play in Ottawa, have made the trip to Montreal to watch their son play, too. He didn’t do a bad job in front of them on Thursday.