Sharks notes: Undefeated and getting healthy

Sharks notes: Undefeated and getting healthy
February 2, 2013, 12:45 pm
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Jason Demers is set for his season debut after fracturing his wrist in Europe on Dec. 31. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

SAN JOSE – The 7-0-0 Sharks remain the league’s only team without a loss, and now they’re getting healthier.

Jason Demers will make his season debut for tonight’s home game against Nashville, and all signs point to him being paired with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Demers missed the first six games with a fractured wrist, and was a healthy scratch on Thursday against Edmonton.

The 24-year-old is looking for a bounce-back season after a disappointing 2011-12. He’s also looking forward to playing with Vlasic, one of the more dependable and perhaps underrated defensemen in the Western Conference.

“You can never say enough good things about Marc. He’s steady and a constant for us every game,” Demers said. “You know what you’re going to get out of him. I know I can just tailor my game how he plays, because I know exactly how he’s going to play.”

Demers will take the place of rookie Matt Irwin, so Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart will comprise another defense pair. Justin Braun and Douglas Murray remain in, too.

It’s likely Demers will get some power play time. All 12 of San Jose’s man advantage goals have come from the top unit, and Todd McLellan has tinkered with his second unit looking for more production there.

“That’s a real good spot for him, somewhere he’s accustomed to playing,” McLellan said. “He brings the puck up well, moves the puck well there, and is willing to shoot it.”

Demers played 30 games in Finland during the lockout, putting up 21 points (5g, 16a).

McLellan said: “We’ve got to let him play a couple games here before we really evaluate him. I think his experience in Europe was good for him. It showed real growth in him as an individual, to choose to go over there and play.”

Changes up front, too

It’s not just the defense that will have a new look against Nashville. In a search for more scoring among the bottom three lines, McLellan had some new combinations for the morning skate, after mixing them up throughout the win over the Oilers.

James Sheppard took rushes on the wing with Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe; Scott Gomez was with Michal Handzus and Marty Havlat; and TJ Galiardi was alongside Andrew Desjardins and Adam Burish.

Playing on the wing is new for Gomez, who said he hasn’t lined up there since his days with the Rangers.

“It’s going to take a little while going back to the wing, it’s [been] a long time since that. When you’re got talented guys on every line you can fit in everywhere,” Gomez said. “That’s something that I wish a lot of teams had that luxury.”

McLellan said: “[We’re] still trying to find the right mixture of players for Scott, and different line combinations. We don’t want to disrupt anything up the middle right now with what we’ve got going, so we move him around on the wing, or at least experiment with it.”

Galiardi, Gomez, Handzus, Burish, Clowe and Tommy Wingels are all still looking for their first goals.

“I think the scoring depth can be picked up,” Clowe said. “I know I obviously haven’t scored yet, and I’d like to get on the board. I’m sure other guys in this room are in the same boat. We have to help the top line more.”

Galiardi’s return from a one-game benching means Wingels is the odd man out.

“He’ll work on his game, and fix it,” McLellan said of Wingels.

Preds struggling on offense

Nashville has never been a team that pours in the goals, relying primarily on a strong defense and superb goaltending from Pekka Rinne in recent years. Still, at just 1.57 per game through their first eight games, they are last in the NHL.

“You prepare yourself for a tight game. You never know how it’s going to go, but you have to be ready to play a tight checking game,” said Patrick Marleau, who leads the NHL in goals with nine -- just three fewer than the Predators have as a team. “They’ll try and come out and play their best game that way, as well.”

“I don’t think we’ve played well out of the gates here. We’ve played sporadic,” Preds head coach Barry Trotz said.

Martin Erat (lower body) will be a game-time decision for Nashville. If he’s unable to play, the team could dress forward Brian McGrattan or a seventh defenseman in Jonathon Blum.

The Predators are playing the sixth game of a seven-game road trip. Although they have lost three shootouts already, they downed Los Angeles, 2-1 via the tiebreaker on Thursday.

“We’re getting points in almost every game,” Trotz said. “That’s been a real key, when you’re not going really well, to get points. We’ve been doing that.”

In goal

Rinne will oppose Antti Niemi tonight in goal.

Niemi, the league leader with six wins, still has a goals-against average under two (1.95). He’s 5-3-1 with a 2.49 GAA and .909 save percentage in his career against the Preds.

Rinne is 1-2-3 with a 2.37 GAA and .907 SP this season. In 12 career games against the Sharks, he’s 5-2-4 with a 2.28 GAA and .935 SP.
    
Sharks notes

Joe Pavelski has a seven-game point streak, tied for the league’s longest with Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner and Steven Stamkos. … The Sharks have four players in the league’s top 15 in scoring (Joe Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski and Logan Couture). … Thornton leads the league in assists (11).