Programming note: Predators-Sharks coverage starts tonight at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California with Sharks Pregame Live (Territory restrictions apply) Channel locations
SAN JOSE – The Sharks have had trouble with Nashville in recent seasons, including this one, as the Predators have beaten San Jose twice already despite falling out of playoff contention.
The games have been close – both were 3-2 finals, and took place at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 14 and Jan. 7 – but the Sharks were unable to get a single point in the standings in either one.
Since the start of the 2011-12 season, the Predators are 6-2-1 against San Jose, and have gained at least one point in 11 of the last 13 meetings (8-2-3).
What has Nashville been able to do well against the Sharks?
“They play a good team game. They’re fast, competitive,” Joe Pavelski said. “We’ve got to understand we’ve got to bring that same intensity against these guys, because they will be playing hard and they can skate. They don’t turn over a whole lot of pucks, and it makes for a tougher night when you play a team like that.”
Fortunately for the Sharks, the Ducks were the team that was outplayed by the Predators on Friday night at Honda Center. Nashville cruised to a 5-2 win over Anaheim, including four first period goals.
That means the Sharks can reclaim first place in the Pacific Division with a victory, although the Ducks, idle tonight, will have two games in hand by the time the game is through.
“It's only good if we take advantage of it, and get the points that we're playing [for] tonight,” Patrick Marleau said. “But, it's one of those things that you need a little help."
(The Ducks, incidentally, play in Edmonton on Sunday and Vancouver on Monday, so by the time they host the Sharks on Wednesday, both teams will have played 79 games.)
McLellan is hopeful his team can get a boost from Anaheim’s loss, referring to it as “the million dollar question.” The Sharks have struggled with non-playoff teams lately, dropping games to Florida, Washington, Calgary and Winnipeg in the last two-and-a-half weeks.
“We’ve been in this situation a couple times against non-playoff teams and we haven’t taken advantage of it,” McLellan said. “I’d like to think that our team can come out and play and do everything we can to get the win. If we can get a leg up on Anaheim, it forces them to win. Right now they don’t have to. That will be a goal of ours tonight.”
When it comes to the Predators, the conversation typically begins with defenseman Shea Weber, who leads the team with 51 points (21g, 30a) and is again a potential Norris Trophy finalist.
"At both ends he's very strong, obviously,” Marleau said. “Offensively, he's got the great shot and jumps up into the play. Defensively he's a big body, uses his stick and size to his advantage."
McLellan said: “There isn’t an aspect of the game that he’s weak in. He’s strong in everything, and he leads their team.”
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Antti Niemi will start in net for the Sharks for the fifth time in the last six games. He’s 0-2 with a 3.11 goals-against average and .882 save percentage against Nashville this season.
The Preds did not skate on Saturday morning having played Friday night, but according to one report it will be Carter Hutton in net rather than Pekka Rinne. Hutton was the winner on Dec. 14, allowing two goals on 38 Sharks shots.