Programming note: Sharks-Blackhawks coverage gets underway today at 5 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California
CHICAGO – The Sharks line and lineup shuffling hasn’t generated the desired results on the scoreboard, as the team has been shut out in two of its last three games. Overall, the Sharks have scored two or fewer in regulation in seven of their last eight, and have fallen all the way to 19th in the league in goals-per-game.
After the morning skate at Chicago’s United Center on Friday, some players hinted at a change in strategy as the Sharks will take on the NHL’s best team.
“Our defensive strategy won’t change,” Tommy Wingels said. “There’s a few things we’ve adjusted offensively, that we’ll look to create more opportunities and get pucks to the net. The goals being scored this year in the Western Conference are dirty ones, right around the net and getting pucks to the net from different angles and finding rebounds.”
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It starts with getting more pucks to the net. The Sharks, typically a team that racks up shots on goal, has failed to reach the 30-shot threshold in four of its last six games. San Jose has finished in the top three in the league in shots-per-game in each of the last four seasons. Currently, they’re eighth (30.2).
“Just shoot more,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. “Sometimes we try and make the pretty play. You shoot more, you might get more opportunities to score. I think that’s what it is right now. We watched the video of all the goals being scored, and they’re not all pretty, but when you throw the puck to the net anything can happen.”
Dan Boyle said: “The way the league has changed over the last few years, goals are getting tougher and tougher to get. You’ve got to find a way to earn them, and get in front the net and get a little dirtier.”
The trick is figuring out a way to score more goals without sacrificing in the defensive end. Besides the debacle in Columbus on Monday, a 6-2 loss, the Sharks have held their opponents to two goals or less in eight of the last nine games – the other exception being the 5-3 loss to Chicago at HP Pavilion on Feb. 5.
“You can’t cheat what you’re doing well. We tried that in Columbus, and obviously the effort was poor and the intensity level wasn’t anywhere what it needed to be there,” Todd McLellan said. “As a result, we cheated ourselves defensively and never gave our team an opportunity to win.”
The coach was much more pleased with the effort during Tuesday’s 1-0 overtime loss in Nashville.
“In Nashville, on the other hand, we had a commitment level that was much better. We played well defensively. When you’re not scoring you have a tendency to want to do too much, try and cheat a little bit, try and gamble too much. That can’t creep into our game, especially against this team.”
The Sharks will be without the services of James Sheppard on Friday night. The winger hurt himself in practice on Thursday, appeared on the ice on Friday morning, but went off early.
That means Scott Gomez will presumably get back into the lineup, probably on the third line wing with Michal Handzus and Wingels, where Sheppard was.
McLellan hinted that there could be a change on defense, too. Brent Burns is likely to return, and it could be in place of Douglas Murray, who struggled mightily against the speedy Blackhawks on Feb. 5. It was Murray who was stripped of the puck by Jonathan Toews, leading to the Patrick Kane’s game-winning goal.
Kane leading unbeaten ‘Hawks
Speaking of Kane, the winger is among the league leaders in points with 20, tied with Sidney Crosby for the second in the league. He brings a seven-game point streak into tonight’s game, with seven goals and four assists over that span.
“He looks like a very motivated, determined young man right now,” McLellan said. “Whatever has motivated him and has got him going, he’s been a very effective player form game one all the way through. He’s dominant, and takes games over right now. He’s a real key piece to their success to begin with.”
Kane and the 10-0-3 Blackhawks will be looking to extend their point streak to start a season to 14 games. The NHL record is 16, set by the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks, who went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Could giving the Blackhawks their first regulation loss help motivate San Jose? Maybe, Wingels said.
“Our focus needs to be there tonight, and we know that. They’ve got a great winning streak here, they’ve got a good team this year, and the onus is going to be on us to be prepared and be ready to go at puck drop.”
McLellan said: “Chicago is going to motivate most teams in the league because of their record and level of play, but I’d rather us be self-motivated in the locker room and want to come out and win the game for us – not just to knock Chicago off for the first time.”
Much has changed since the first meeting just 10 days ago, when the teams were battling for the top spot in the Western Conference. The Sharks have yet to win in the month of February, going 0-3-3 since beating Edmonton in a shootout on Jan. 31.
“It’s kind of a tale of two different teams right now. They’re real hot, and we’re looking to get back on the winning road here, so it will be a good battle for us,” Wingels said.