SAN JOSE – One new face, one familiar one, and one more that hasn’t been in a game in nearly four months will all likely play for the Sharks as they try and stay alive in the playoff race on Friday at home against Arizona.
Defenseman Karl Stollery, 27, appears set to make his Sharks debut on defense with Scott Hannan still banged up from taking a puck to the face on Wednesday.
Stollery, a five-foot-11, 180-pounder, was acquired from Colorado at the trade deadline at will wear uniform number 3. The Alberta native, who played in seven career NHL games with the Avalanche, described himself as “a two-way defenseman. A pretty reliable, solid guy. I'm not the biggest guy, so just relying on my skating and positional play. I just look to be a reliable guy every night."
Todd McLellan said: “He has experienced the NHL before, so that's a good thing.”
[RELATED: Hannan nominated for Masterton Trophy]
Antti Niemi will start in net for the first time in four games. The goaltender has been dealing with an illness, while Alex Stalock was playing well in his place, both of which contributed to Niemi's time off.
The 31-year-old goaltender said he started feeling better earlier this week, and his illness has been “going away for a couple days.” Stalock is also still not feeling well after allowing just five goals against in the last three games, but is improving, per McLellan.
The two Sharks goalies, who are good friends, are likely experiencing the same illness.
“Even on the road we sit next to each other. That could be a bad thing, we both get sick at the same time,” Niemi said.
At forward, Mike Brown will return in his familiar fourth line energy role with Ben Smith and Barclay Goodrow. Brown, 29, has been out since breaking a bone in his right leg on Dec. 9, 47 games ago. He's played in just eight games this season due to injuries, including a broken finger suffered on Oct. 11.
“I’ve got to play the same way I’ve played my whole career,” said Brown, who originally expected to miss six-to-eight weeks before suffering a setback in his recovery. “Keep it simple, get in on the forecheck, be solid in our zone, and try to produce offensively if I can.”
McLellan described Brown’s return as “a reward for all the therapeutic days that he's put in. We think he's ready to go, and it'll give us a boost of energy and hopefully he can help out that way.”
The Sharks remain five points out of a playoff spot with five games remaining, but have gained seven of a possible eight points in their last four games. Arizona, meanwhile, is in full tank mode. The Coyotes haven’t won in regulation since Feb. 3, 26 games ago. They have four wins in the last two months – two in a shootout, and two in overtime.
The teams will meet again on Saturday at Gila River Arena.
McLellan senses a positive energy around his team of late, despite its dire position in the standings.
“I actually think we're a fairly loose group,” he said. “We know where we're at. We understand numbers and games available and points and all of that stuff, but we are playing a fairly loose game – not erratic all over the ice and giving up chances, but just coming to the rink and playing loose and enjoying it. I think that's benefited us somewhat.”