SAN JOSE -- When the Sharks got off to their 8-0-1 start to the season, which included several decisive victories and goals coming in bunches, the biggest key to their success was an ability to quickly get the puck out of their end and into the offensive zone.
Brent Burns’ injury in late October put the skids on that style a bit, and during the Sharks’ last road trip, head coach Todd McLellan remarked that the club was still searching for that speed game that it had when the season began.
McLellan said: “I think we’re getting back to it, yes.”
“There’s always room for improvement, but the last few games have been good,” Justin Braun said. “We’ve been playing together, playing fast, and I think we’ve been breaking out a little faster than we had when we were losing games.”
Burns has proven to be the X-factor, as the Sharks are now 11-0-1 with him in the lineup, including Friday when he notched his first career hat trick. Taking a breather after their five-game road trip that ended with a 5-1 loss in Chicago on Nov. 17 -- their worst loss of the season -- was also paramount.
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“We’re getting our lineup settled a little bit, we’re getting healthier, [and] we’ve had some rest, which was real important,” said McLellan.
Logan Couture said: “We’ve played better lately. With Burnzie coming back, it evens out our lines, and we’re able to play the way that we want to play.”
The Sharks will try and wrap up their season-long five-game homestand with a perfect record, after it started with wins over Tampa Bay and New Jersey. Saturday’s game could be the most important of the bunch, as the Anaheim Ducks are tied with the Sharks atop the Pacific Division with 39 points. The Ducks have played three more games than San Jose.
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It’s the first of five games between the two clubs that will likely be battling for position between now and April in what has been the best division in hockey so far.
Beating top teams in the Kings, Blues and Ducks in three straight games would be an impressive feat for San Jose, which is now tied with St. Louis for the NHL’s best winning percentage (.780).
“The first two games were taxing, against big, heavy clubs that make you work for every inch of the ice. They are known for that,” McLellan said. “We’re going to have to use our bench more than we did last night against St. Louis. We’re going to have to leave the tanks empty on the ice if we want to be successful.”
“We knew going in that these three games were going to be big,” Burns said. “The first two are done, and we’ve got to get the next one now.”
Maintaining that successful style of play that has seen the Sharks outscore their opponents 16-7 on the current homestand will be necessary.
“The speed factor has shown up in some of our games lately against teams that are normally very hard to play against,” McLellan said. “We’ll need it again tonight.”
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Antti Niemi will make his sixth straight start Saturday in net. Lines and likely scratches were unclear, as the Sharks held an optional skate on Saturday morning.