NHL

Sharks Bites: SJ returns home for reunions with McLellan and Niemi

Todd McLellan Sharks

There really couldn’t be a better time for the Sharks to notch three victories in a row.

Not that there would ever be a bad time for a 7-0 shutout at home or back-to-back road wins against teams that had previously embarrassed them — call the wins over Calgary and Winnipeg the Redemption Tour, if you’re so inclined.

But stringing those three wins together should be a nice confidence boost headed into the next home stand, which starts with a game that holds a bit of emotional weight.

San Jose will already want to get a big win on Thursday because: A) It’s difficult to tell if they’re completely over the whole “can’t buy a way to win at home” thing; B) Their last meetup with Thursday’s guest, the Oilers, resulted in a heartbreaking 4-3 overtime loss in Edmonton and they’ll want a revenge win; and of course C) This will be Todd McLellan’s first game back in SJ after parting ways with the team last offseason.

The Sharks would appear to have the momentum going into this tilt, considering San Jose is riding three wins, while Edmonton has dropped its last three decisions including a blown lead in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Arizona Coyotes (who have remained surprisingly competitive through the first half of the season). But lets not forget that the Sharks have shown a tendency to allow the opposition to break out of scoring slumps and skate away with the win, especially on home ice. Add the emotion of McLellan’s return — if you don’t think these guys want to beat their former coach, you’re nuts — and Thursday’s contest becomes a lot more interesting.

Not to add more weight to Thursday’s game, but if last Saturday’s win over the Leafs is the start of a turnaround on home ice, the Edmonton game is a good time to prove that the “bounces will start going our way,” as Joe Pavelski has mentioned. It doesn’t have to be an epic blowout like the one against Toronto — as Martin Jones said Saturday “They’re fun to win, but you’re not going to get those every night” — but it’s a good foundation for home dominance. Getting a retribution win over McLellan and the Oilers is more like the cherry on top.

Will Team Teal admit there will be emotions on the ice because of T-Mac’s return? Heck no, these guys are professionals. Those who played under McLellan are going to do their best to put it out of their minds and treat Thursday’s matchup like any other. But it can’t be mistaken, San Jose will get a big ego boost from tallying a home win over the franchise’s former coach.

Plus, the win over the Oilers would hopefully be a good jolt before Saturday when San Jose hosts the conference-leading Dallas Stars, which is — drumroll please — Antti Niemi’s first game back in San Jose! While still maintaining a lead in the West, the Stars have been giving up more goals than they have been scoring since the new year began. And if you don’t think the Sharks are looking to bury the puck five-hole three times in the first frame, just like Niemi let happen to them so many times last season, you’re nuts.

Keys to upping the chances of victory? Keeping the overall game simple, minimizing the penalties and probably finding a way to score that elusive first goal which seems to affect the course of every game played at SAP Center nowadays. Because if you don’t think this team is going to get into their own heads if McLellan’s team scores the first goal on Thursday … again, you’re nuts.

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