Sharks, Flames aim to make Pacific headway
The San Jose Sharks and the Calgary Flames return from the league’s Christmas break facing a Pacific Division logjam.
Two teams trying to move up square off the second time this month when the Sharks wrap up a three-game homestand by playing host to the Flames on Thursday night.
With 42 points, San Jose (19-11-4) is third in the Pacific behind the expansion Vegas Golden Knights and the Los Angeles Kings. The Sharks are three points in front of Calgary (18-15-3).
“We’re all within a couple points of each other. It’s going to be some good, heavy games,” Flames coach Glen Gulutzan said of the team’s brief road trip that ends Friday night in Anaheim.
First, Calgary faces a San Jose team that has been red hot with the man advantage.
Since Dec. 7, the Sharks have at least one power-play goal in eight consecutive games, totaling 13 in 38 chances. Brent Burns, Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl each have three man-advantage markers with Joe Pavelski adding two. Chris Tierney scored on the power play for the Sharks in a 3-2 win over the Flames on Dec. 14 in Calgary.
“We’ve stuck with it,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer told the Sharks’ official website on Wednesday. “Like all parts of your game — scoring, confidence and being able to hold on to the puck for an extra second to try and make a play — that’s all confidence-related.”
One player who seems to have rediscovered his confidence is Burns. The 2017 Norris Trophy winner has all six of his goals and 11 of 18 assists over the past 15 games, helping the Sharks go 9-3-3 in that stretch.
Burns has two goals and four assists in his last six home games against Calgary.
San Jose is in search of its sixth win in seven games at SAP Center. After getting past the Vancouver Canucks 5-4 in overtime on Dec. 21 to open the homestand, the Sharks topped the Kings 2-0 on Saturday. Martin Jones made 28 saves against his former team en route to his 100th NHL win.
“Obviously getting the result is nice,” Jones said, “but I thought I’ve played some good hockey over the last five games.”
With his third shutout of the season, Jones is still 2-3-2 with a 3.52 goals-against average and an .885 save percentage this month. Since joining the Sharks in 2015, Jones is 2-1-0 while turning away 64 of 70 shots against the Flames in Northern California.
Sharks backup goalie Aaron Dell, who stopped 32 shots against Calgary two weeks ago, is 5-0-0 with a 1.59 GAA, a .951 save percentage and one shutout since Nov. 28. Dell won his only career start at home versus the Flames by stopping 20 shots in a 3-1 victory on April 8.
Calgary takes the ice for the first time since a 3-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night. Down three goals midway through the third period, the Flames got tallies from Micheal Ferland and Matthew Tkachuk but failed to match their longest winning streak of the season at three games.
“When we get back, we’ve got to remember this one,” said Tkachuk (eight goals, 13 assists), who is tied with Mikael Backlund for third on the team with 21 points.
Calgary is 9-4-3 on the road but has alternated losses and wins in its past six away from home. The Flames are trying to win two straight on the road for the first time since defeating the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 18 and the Washington Capitals two nights later.
The Calgary Sun reported Wednesday that both goalies, Mike Smith and rookie David Rittich, will each get a start on the short road trip, but it was not yet known who would face San Jose.
Smith (14-12-3, 2.57 GAA, .919 save percentage, two shutouts) said Wednesday that he was grateful for the holiday break and hopes it will pay off.
“I think anytime you can get rest during the season, it sets up well for down the road,” he said. “As the season dwindles down, you hope to be playing a lot of game and it’s valuable.”
Smith is 2-4-2 with a 2.64 GAA and a .903 save percentage this month. Both of his road losses in December came in shootouts after he surrendered a total of two goals in regulation. Over his past four visits to San Jose while playing for the Arizona Coyotes, Smith went 1-2-1 despite putting up a 1.73 GAA and a .953 save percentage.
Rittich made his NHL debut on April 8 in San Jose. He stopped nine of 10 shots in one period in relief of Brian Elliott. The native of the former Czechoslovakia is 3-0-0 with a 1.66 GAA and a .938 save percentage on the road in 2017-18.
Calgary’s Jaromir Jagr (one goal, six assists, 19 games played) will be a game-time decision after missing two games with a lower-body injury that has plagued him throughout his 24th NHL season. Jagr, who turns 46 on Feb. 15, is one game shy of tying Ron Francis for third in all-time games played (1,731).
Jagr has eight goals and nine assists in 17 career games at the Shark Tank.
The Flames are expected to have defenseman Travis Hamonic back after he missed one game with a lower-body injury that landed him on injured reserve.