SAN JOSE – Despite clinching the league’s best record on the road, and owning its third-worst at home, the Sharks are hopeful they’ll be able to begin their 2016 Stanley Cup Playoff run in their own building.
To do it they’ll likely need to win both of their final two games and hope the Ducks and/or Kings, who are both three points ahead in the Pacific Division, falter.
The Sharks host the Jets on Thursday and Coyotes on Saturday to close out the regular season.
“There’s an opportunity to get home ice. We’re going to play like we want it, hopefully,” Logan Couture said.
“You always like to be at home and stay away from the travel and hotels. Obviously we haven’t played the way the we’re capable of in our home building, so we want to change that and have some confidence going into the playoffs.”
The Sharks are just 17-19-3 at SAP Center this season, so the best they can hope for is finishing with the NHL’s version of a .500 record. They’ve particularly struggled in the first home game after a road trip, going 1-7-1 in those situations.
What they already know is that they can’t win the Pacific Division, and will face either the Ducks or Kings in the first round. Those clubs face one another tonight, and the winner of the division will host the Nashville Predators.
“It’s an important game,” DeBoer said of the Ducks-Kings game, which will take place at Staples Center concurrently with the Sharks-Jets game.
“We’re preparing for both teams. It doubles the work for the staff, and our video coach Dan Darrow, but that’s how we’re approaching it. It will be an interesting game tonight.”
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Marc-Edouard Vlasic (sprained MCL) and Matt Nieto (hand) remain out, although both skated again on Thursday morning.
DeBoer indicated they could play Saturday, but, “I’m not going [to risk] their availability for the start of the playoffs. For me, that’s not a necessity that they play Saturday.”
The Sharks will go back to Martin Jones in net after James Reimer started and won the last two games in Nashville and Minnesota.
What does DeBoer want to see?
“More of the same. He’s been excellent,” said the coach. “I think he’s really found another level the second half. Just get him in a good place heading into the playoffs.”
Chris Tierney will draw back into the lineup after missing Thursday’s game due to an undisclosed injury. The second-year center will take the place of 37-year-old Dainius Zubrus, who will come out for maintenance.
Tierney has not found the scoresheet in his last 11 games.
“Just kind of getting the body ready again and just kind of rejuvenating it and just feeling good about myself and feeling good about my body again,” he said. “I’m excited to be back in tonight.”
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The last time the Sharks hosted the Jets on Jan. 2 was perhaps their worst game of the season. They followed it up with a hard-fought loss to the Red Wings on Jan. 7, and since then have posted a 27-11-4 record.
Captain Joe Pavelski has mentioned that Jets game, a 4-1 loss, several times over the second half of the season. Couture remembered it, too.
“I know we were upset with the way we played. Our effort wasn’t there,” he said. “I don’t think that has been an issue most of the season. Even when we’re losing games, our effort has been there. That’s one of the games where we just got out-competed and out-battled. Pete let us know that. I think the group that we have here, we made it a point here to go out and compete every night.”
DeBoer, though, didn’t remember the game quite as well, despite calling it “an egg” in his postgame presser.
“I think for the most part when I look at our season I don’t look at one game where we had been playing poorly and everything came together and we decided we’re going to turn this around,” he said. “I see a season where we had a group of guys that were invested from Day 1. We had some bumps, and every time we hit a bump, they pulled themselves up and got themselves out of it.”