Programming note: Sharks-Blues coverage starts today at 4:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California with Sharks Pregame Live.
ST. LOUIS – Just five days ago, the Blues gave the Sharks their worst beating of the season, cruising to a 7-2 win at SAP Center in what was San Jose’s first game without Joe Thornton in more than four years.
The Sharks will remain without Thornton for at least another game, as the top center continues to recover from a shoulder injury. Inside the visitor’s locker room, though, they expect a much better performance than what they got in the previous meeting after subsequently turning things around with wins in Winnipeg and Minnesota.
“There are some X’s and O’s things that they did better than we did, but it’s hard to determine whether that was a systematic thing or whether it was a commitment thing from our group,” Todd McLellan said.
“I expect us to be much, much better, but it doesn’t mean it will be an easier game. I think we’ll actually have a tougher game. Their team is playing with a lot of confidence.”
[KURZ: Thornton: 'It just sucks being injured']
One area in particular that will have to be better is the power play, which is just two of its last 31. That includes an 0-for-6 in that last game against St. Louis, and it is just 1-for-17 without Thornton.
Against Minnesota, the Sharks power play didn’t generate a single shot on goal in eight minutes.
Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock indicated that’s where the Sharks miss Thornton most of all.
“Joe makes any power play completely unpredictable, which is really scary to play against,” Hitchcock said. “That’s the part that really is a concern for us as an opposition, because you’re not sure – he has the ability to find people outside of coverage, which is very difficult to defend.”
T.J. Oshie, who has 11 points in his last six games, including a hat trick against the Sharks, spoke about how unusual it is to face San Jose without its future Hall of Famer in the lineup.
“It’s a lot different. He’s a great player, and especially [on] their power play,” Oshie said. “It’s still good without him, but with him in there, that’s a couple more different things you’ve got to think about when you’re going against it.
“Hopefully he has a speedy recovery, but I’m OK not playing against him tonight here.”
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Antti Niemi will return to the net for the Sharks, after it was Stalock who pulled out the victory on Tuesday. The 31-year-old is 9-7-0 with a 2.74 goals-against average and .905 save percentage in his career against the Blues, but allowed six goals on 27 shots before getting pulled against them last Saturday.
Brian Elliott will man the crease for St. Louis, after earning a 23-save shutout against Arizona on Tuesday in a 6-0 Blues win. He made 18 saves on 20 shots in the previous meeting vs. San Jose.