Programming note: The puck drops in Columbus at 4:00, with Sharks Postgame Live immediately following the game, exclusively on CSN California.
COLUMBUS – It was almost two months ago, but the Sharks’ last visit to Columbus still seems to be fresh in a number of players’ minds. From the opening faceoff until the final horn, the 6-2 loss here on Feb. 11 was the team’s worst effort and performance of the season.
And, just in case they had forgotten, “They were reminded,” head coach Todd McLellan said on Tuesday morning at Nationwide Arena, after the morning skate.
[KURZ: Sharks-Blue Jackets at a glance]
Logan Couture said: “Coming in here, we were embarrassed pretty badly by these guys. They beat us 6-2, and that was probably one of the worst games we had played all year. It’s definitely in my mind, and hopefully it’s in the rest of the guys’ minds, and we come prepared tonight.”
Columbus was just 3-7-2 before that first meeting, and was generally viewed as the one of the worst teams in the league.
Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards said: “Where we were at in the season when we played them the first time, standings-wise and record-wise, I think they might have taken us for granted a little bit and we caught them off-guard. I know that won’t happen tonight.”
Since then, the Blue Jackets have gotten themselves back into the discussion for a possible playoff spot, although losses in their last two games have hurt them in that regard. A 3-0 defeat to Minnesota on Sunday was snapped a 9-0-3 run at home, and the Blue Jackets (16-16-7, 39 points) are in 12th place in the Western Conference, four points behind eighth place Detroit.
Another loss would put a serious damper on their hopes for a second playoff appearance in franchise history.
“Our effort is going to have to be there, because they’re in a dogfight for a playoff spot,” Dan Boyle said. “It’s not like years past where they were just finishing up the season. We’re aware, and we’re ready.”
The veteran Boyle still has that last appearance here in his mind, too, and didn’t agree with the Columbus coach that the Sharks were looking past the Blue Jackets in February.
“The coaches point it out, but we’re aware,” he said. “We know what’s going on. I don’t think it was a question of lack of respect. There’s nobody in the league you don’t respect. They were just flat out better than us, and worked harder than us that night.”
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McLellan said after the 5-4 shootout loss to Dallas on Sunday that there were “a lot of high-minute and high-end players that really didn’t perform very well tonight.”
He didn’t call anyone out by name, but said on Tuesday morning that the line of Couture, Patrick Marleau and Tommy Wingels had an off night. Although they generated a first period goal from Wingels, that group finished a combined -6 and Couture even took a shift on the fourth line.
“Last game, I don’t think that line did a great job,” McLellan said.
“I didn’t play very well last game. I know that,” Couture said. “We’re grown men in here, whoever didn’t play well knows that they didn’t play well. It’s not like everybody left the rink last game and patted themselves on the back.”
To be fair, that line had been playing against the opposition’s top players as much as possible during the successful seven-game homestand in which the Sharks finished 6-0-1. McLellan pointed that out when asked about Marleau’s lack of production, as the winger has just one goal in his last 10 games.
“Patty and I talked about this the other day. There’s some concern about his lack of scoring, but they’ve also played as a line and accepted the assignment at home against some of the other team’s top scorers, and we’ve won a number of games,” McLellan said.
The head coach would like to see his top power play unit perform better than it has in the last three games. The Sharks are 0-for-6 in the last two games, and on April 3 against the Wild, scored a five-on-three goal on Boyle’s fancy end-to-end rush and got another from the second power play unit by TJ Galiardi.
“That group of five on the first unit has to do a better job than they’ve done over the last two or three games,” he said.
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Antti Niemi was the first goalie off of the ice, so he’ll make his 17th straight start. He’ll oppose the impressive Sergei Bobrovsky.
Niemi is 4-1-0 with a 2.78 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in seven career games against the Blue Jackets.
Thomas Greiss and the since-traded Steve Mason opposed one another in the first meeting.