The Detroit Red Wings haven’t looked very sharp in back-to-back losses on the road.
Detroit plays seven of its next eight at home, and Howard is back with the team after missing the last two games due to the birth of his son. In his absence, the Red Wings (5-2-0) were outscored 11-2 in losses to Washington on Saturday and previously winless Columbus on Tuesday.
Coach Mike Babcock plans to change some of his line combinations in preparation for San Jose, though he kept his top forward unit of Henrik Zetterberg(notes), Pavel Datsyuk(notes) and Danny Cleary(notes) intact in practice Wednesday.
The trio has three goals and six assists.
“We’re not scoring. That’s been the problem these last two games,” Zetterberg told the team’s official website. “We haven’t been able to score goals. We’ve been in games, creating chances, but we can’t put the puck behind him.”
Cleary, who posted career highs of 26 goals and 46 points last season, has two assists in 2011-12 and has not recorded a point in his last five games.
“I hope he believes in our line,” Cleary said of Babcock. “He believes in every player on this team. I think he’s trying to find the best fit for each line. We need to get back to going really basic and really simple.”
Having Howard back may provide a simple remedy, as backup Ty Conklin(notes) posted a 5.06 goals-against average and .821 save percentage in the two defeats. Howard is 4-0-0 with a 1.72 GAA on the season, but he’s allowed nine goals in losing his last two regular-season starts against the Sharks.
Howard recorded a 2.49 GAA in last season’s seven-game Western Conference semifinal loss to San Jose - the second straight year the Sharks eliminated the Red Wings from the playoffs.
San Jose (4-3-0) heads into the teams’ first meeting since then on a three-game winning streak. The Sharks defeated Nashville 3-1 on Tuesday.
“He’s a gifted player and that’s why we got him here,” coach Todd McLellan said.
Thornton has five goals and four assists in his last six regular-season games versus the Red Wings, and he added six assists against them in the playoffs.
Pavelski has four goals and two assists during San Jose’s winning streak, though hasn’t scored in his last eight regular-season games against Detroit.
Niemi is 5-1-1 with a 1.97 GAA in the regular season versus Detroit, and had a 2.36 GAA in last season’s playoff series.
The Red Wings took the final two playoff games in Detroit after San Jose had won five of the previous six matchups at Joe Louis Arena, including the postseason.