SAN JOSE – It’s getting close to make-or-break time for the San Jose Sharks, and it might not be a stretch to suggest that the next three games will show what kind of team the Sharks really are, if we don’t already know.
It begins on Thursday night at home against the Kings (14-9-2), winners of nine of their last 12. The defending Stanley Cup champions are surging, and despite a 5-2 loss to Phoenix on Tuesday, they look like a real threat to repeat. Saturday the Sharks will visit the Staples Center for the back end of a home-and-home in Los Angeles, and on Monday the Sharks face the division-leading Anaheim Ducks (19-3-3).
“It’s six points that are available, as of this moment. We’d like to tap into that as much as we can, and it would also give us a confidence boost if we can be successful,” Todd McLellan said on Thursday morning. “Against these two teams, you don’t get anything for free, and that’s probably a real good test for us. If we can come away with some success, we’ll know we’ve earned it, and we can take that and grow with it.”
The Sharks would like to build on their effort on Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues. San Jose poured 41 shots on net against the team that allows the fewest shots on goal per game, and although they only scored twice in a 4-2 loss, it was the best that the Sharks’ offense has looked in weeks.
“We’ve got to try and replicate some of those chances, and obviously put a few in the net,” Dan Boyle said. “It was definitely, by far, the best offensive game we’ve had, probably all year.”
Joe Thornton said: “Even though we didn’t get the result, we played real well. We were aggressive; we shut them down with 21 shots. It was the type of game we’re comfortable in. We feel like we can play like that every night, and if we do, we’ll be very successful.”
McLellan views the Blues and Kings as comparable teams, and with three of their last 11 games against St. Louis, the Sharks should be prepared to face a Los Angeles club that features some big, skilled forwards and can play a tight defensive game in front of a top goaltender in Jonathan Quick. Quick is expected to start against Antti Niemi.
“I think L.A. plays a game that’s fairly similar to what St. Louis does, so it’s been a good dress rehearsal for a very good team today,” said the head coach.
Patrick Marleau agreed. “They are very similar teams, they are always going to come after you. Big bodies. We generated a lot of shots last game, and we’ve got to continue to do that, and go to the net.”
There is also some animosity between the Sharks and Kings, according to Logan Couture.
“We don’t like them very much, and they don’t like us,” he said. “It stems back to the playoffs a couple years ago. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger each year. We know how important these points are, division rival. It’s going to be a good game tonight.”
The Sharks enter with a four-game losing streak, but have gained points in six of their last eight games (3-2-3). At some point, they’ll have to start winning games in regulation if they want to be considered a serious threat to make it to the postseason. San Jose has just two wins in regulation in its last 20, and just seven overall.
“These are huge points,” Marleau said. “If you’re coming from behind, it’s nice to get that one point, but if you can get out to a quick lead and establish your lead and hang on in regulation, that’s how you make some moves in the standings.”
Thursday night is San Jose’s final home game before a five-game road trip that takes them up and down the West Coast. The Sharks are 7-1-4 at home, but just 4-7-2 away from HP Pavilion, including losses in five of the last six.
“We’re going on the road again for two weeks, this is our one game at home for a little while. We’ve just got to win the game, that’s the point we’re at,” Boyle said.
Burns remains up front
The Brent Burns-at-forward experiment will continue for at least another game, it appears, as Burns took morning line rushes with Thornton and Logan Couture. Burns’ first game up front was a successful one, as he scored one of the two Sharks goals in St. Louis on Tuesday.
Thornton remarked after the Blues game that he loved playing with Burns in the second half of Tuesday’s loss, and reiterated that thought on Thursday.
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“He’s a pretty good defenseman, but I think he’s going to be an even better forward,” Thornton said. “I’ve only played two periods with him, but he’s big, strong, skates real well, and he seems like a perfect fit for me and Logan. Hopefully, it works out for us.”
Thornton’s shouldn’t expect Burns to stay there, though. Considering he missed the first 10 games of the season and seven more recently, it’s probable that the Sharks want to make sure Burns is 100 percent in terms of skating strength and conditioning before moving him back to his normal position.
“Eventually, he’ll be back on the blue line, I would think,” McLellan said. “We’re trying to play and fix things that we think are some of the weaknesses. We feel like we have depth on the blue line.”
“Long term, however long that might be, he’s still a very valuable defenseman. He went to [one] All-Star game because he played back there. I’m sure we’ll see him back there, eventually.”
Havlat, Greiss skate
Marty Havlat and Thomas Greiss both skated on Thursday morning at HP Pavilion. Havlat is at “almost full speed,” according to McLellan, while Greiss is further away. Havlat skated with the team, while Greiss was out early taking shots from Corey Schwab and Jay Woodcroft.
Both players remain on injured reserve.