Sharks-Wild Preview


With a struggling defense largely to blame, the San Jose Sharks are no longer atop the Pacific Division.

A matchup with the Minnesota Wild's anemic offense on Sunday would seem to provide the Sharks a chance to move back into a tie for first place, but they haven't won at the Xcel Energy Center in nearly two years.

San Jose (32-21-7) has allowed 43 goals during a 3-7-1 stretch and gave up six for the third time in six games Saturday in Nashville. Antti Niemi surrendered four goals on seven shots in that 6-2 defeat, which helped drop the Sharks two points behind red-hot Phoenix in the division.

"It wasn't a good effort," captain Joe Thornton said. "We have to find a way to come together. We're in the seven spot (in the Western Conference) now, and it's unacceptable."

The Sharks will next face a Minnesota team that's scored 15 goals in 11 games this month. A 4-1 defeat at Dallas on Friday was its eighth in 10 games (2-6-2).

"Next game, we've got to be ready and make sure this doesn't happen again," goaltender Niklas Backstrom said.

A rash of injuries, including an undisclosed one to captain Mikko Koivu, hasn't helped. The Wild (27-25-9) also traded defenseman Marek Zidlicky to New Jersey on Friday for three players and a pair of draft picks.

Minnesota, five points behind the eighth-place teams in the West, has used 39 players this season, one shy of matching its team record set in 2009-10.

Despite that shifting rotation, the Wild have won their past two matchups with the Sharks, including a 5-4 shootout victory at home Jan. 10. San Jose tried its best to avoid a third straight defeat in Minnesota by scoring twice in the final 3:06 of regulation, but Koivu and Matt Cullen scored on Niemi in the tiebreaker.

San Jose, which is wrapping up a nine-game trip, hasn't won in St. Paul since April 2, 2010, and ending that drought would push the Sharks back into a tie with idle Phoenix. They're currently three points ahead of the eighth-place clubs in the conference.

San Jose might start Thomas Greiss, who has never faced Minnesota, during that attempt to catch the Coyotes. Niemi, though, is 4-1-1 with a 1.98 goals-against average in six starts against the Wild.

Backstrom, the likely starter for Minnesota, could get the chance to snap a three-game skid to the Sharks. He's given up a combined 10 goals in those three road games but has allowed three over his past two home matchups.

Devin Setoguchi will try to help by recording his first point in three games against his former team. Another former Sharks star, Dany Heatley, has two assists in this season's three meetings and four in his last three overall games.

San Jose's Patrick Marleau has five goals and three assists in his last six games against Minnesota and four goals and an assist in his last four overall contests. Defenseman Dan Boyle matched his season high for points in the previous road game versus the Wild with one goal and two assists.