SAN JOSE -– The sense of panic that’s enveloped a portion of the Sharks fan base regarding the team’s failure to clinch a playoff spot in three straight losses hasn’t reached the head coach’s office just yet.
“I’m not even thinking about that,” Pete DeBoer said on Monday morning. “I have no doubt we’re going to clinch. I’m not even thinking about that.”
Considering the Sharks would have to lose their final seven games while the Coyotes would have to win their final seven, that’s really no surprise. If the Sharks didn’t make the postseason now, it would make that first round series loss to the Kings in 2014 look like a teeny bump in the road.
They’ll get in, whether it’s tonight, Tuesday in Vancouver, or later this week.
Still, the Sharks would like to be playing better than they have been in consecutive regulation defeats to the Blues, Oilers and Stars. Although they could have won the Blues and Stars games, according to DeBoer, a four-game losing streak at this stage of the season would be concerning.
Trouncing their biggest enemy after splitting the first four games of the season series would be a nice way to end their longest homestand on a positive note.
“This is obviously a big test,” Logan Couture said. “They’re a rival, they’re a good team. We haven’t played as well as we should have the last couple games, so we’ve got a lot to prove.”
The road team has won each of the four games in the season series so far, including the Kings’ overtime triumph at SAP Center on Jan. 24 in a game in which Vincent Lecavalier tied it in the final minute of regulation with the goalie pulled.
There is still a good possibility that the Sharks and Kings will meet in the first round if the Ducks find a way to win the Pacific Division. Anaheim, in Edmonton on Monday, trails the Kings by three points with one game in hand. A second round meeting is also very possible.
“We know this is a potential playoff opponent, so obviously we want to send the right message that we’re going to be a tough group and a tough out,” DeBoer said.
“We’re jockeying for position here and we want to set the tone going into the playoffs,” Brenden Dillon said.
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It appears that Joonas Donskoi will return to the lineup after missing Saturday’s game with Dallas due to a lower body injury.
The 23-year-old rookie took warmups last game, but was scratched anyway. If it were a playoff game, though, he would have been in.
“Yeah, absolutely. I didn’t want to rush, just wanted to be smart this time of the season,” Donskoi said.
DeBoer said: “It didn’t make sense to risk something further at that point.”
Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who has missed the last five games with a lower body injury, has still not skated. There is no timetable for him to return to the ice, either.
“He’s getting closer, improving every day. Again, it’s one of those things where we’ve got some time on our side here,” DeBoer said. “The important thing is he’s ready to go for playoffs.”
The Sharks are 2-5-1 without their best defensive blueliner this season.
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Donskoi’s return will apparently push Nick Spaling out of the lineup, as the fourth line forward spent extra time on the ice after the morning skate. That means Micheal Haley will stay in for the third straight game, likely on the fourth line with Dainius Zubrus and Tommy Wingels.
Having Haley in over Spaling would provide some added muscle, of course, in a meeting in which there is no love lost between the two squads.
With that in mind, Monday’s game will be the first time that Couture and Milan Lucic are on the ice together since a run-in on Oct. 7 in the season opener at Staples Center. Lucic took exception to Couture’s upending him in the neutral zone with a clean hit, and charged the width of the ice to go after Couture, earning a match penalty.
Could there be anything left over from that incident headed into tonight’s game?
“For me? I don’t think so,” Couture said. “That was the first game of the year when that happened, and it just so happens that we haven’t played against each since then. But, that’s a long time ago.”