VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The road has not been kind to the Sharks this season.
And now San Jose will try to reverse that trend with an added challenge, as the team's top six forwards have been reduced to a familiar four plus two relatively new faces in unfamiliar settings.
With Marty Havlat sidelined by a lower body injury, the Sharks recalled Bracken Kearns, a 31-year-old career minor leaguer with five games of NHL experience, from Worcester on Monday. Though the lines were not fully set, expect to see him and Tim Kennedy sharing the ice with the four San Jose forwards who have produced the bulk of the team's goals this season -- Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski.
"Just practicing with those guys, you have to elevate your game to keep up with them," said Kearns, a Vancouver native who will be playing in his first NHL game in his hometown Tuesday night when the Sharks face the Canucks. "If they're putting me in that role, it means their expectations are high for me, and you want that as a player."
The obvious thing to do without Havlat in the lineup would have been to return Ryane Clowe to one of the top two lines, though he has yet to score a goal this season while accumulating six assists. But coach Todd McLellan said he liked what he saw last game from a third line of Clowe, Scott Gomez and James Sheppard.
"We're trying to find at least three lines that can score on a consistent basis and
Kearns, who had 13 goals, 17 assists and 63 penalty minutes in 50 games with Worcester, plays the hard-nosed style of hockey McLellan is looking for as the Sharks continue to struggle to score. And the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Kearns has a pedigree -- his father, Dennis, played 677 NHL games as a Canucks defenseman from 1971 until 1981.
Marleau said it isn't that difficult incorporating players from Worcester on the top two lines, because they already know the Sharks system. For example, in San Jose's 2-1 victory over Nashville on Saturday, Marleau skated on a line with Pavelski and Kennedy, and the three seemed to mesh.
"Usually, when they bring up players, they know what type of players they are and expect them to play the same role," Marleau said.
Pavelski can relate to what Kearns and Kennedy are going through. When he got his first chance to play in the NHL during the 2006-07 season, he was immediately put on one of the top two lines.
"It's exciting. You know you're going to get some ice time, some power-play time," Pavelski said. "It's one of those things -- you're skating better, you're trying to get them the puck. ... Hopefully they have that same feeling and they'll respond well."
The one Shark who actually has seen Kearns play in the NHL is Kennedy, who has two goals in the eight games he's played since his Feb. 12 call-up. Kearns and Kennedy were in the Florida Panthers organization last season, and Kennedy was with the parent club when Kearns made his NHL debut.
"He's that kind of player where he's not going to hesitate," said Kennedy, 26, who now has 120 NHL games on his résumé. "He's going to hit the ground running, he's going to work hard, he's going to do his job. I think he'll be fine."
How Kearns and Kennedy do could determine if the Sharks can end their recent road woes here and Wednesday night against the Calgary Flames. After winning the first two games of the season on a previous trip to Western Canada, San Jose has gone 1-5-1 away from HP Pavilion, where the Sharks are 7-1-3.