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San Jose Sharks center Torrey Mitchell (17), defenseman Kent Huskins (40), defenseman Jason Demers (60), and right wing Brad Staubitz (59) celebrate after the Sharks scored a goal against the Nashville Predators during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Nashville, Tenn., Saturday. (Frederick Breedon/Frederick Breedon/AP)
San Jose Sharks center Torrey Mitchell (17), defenseman Kent Huskins (40), defenseman Jason Demers (60), and right wing Brad Staubitz (59) celebrate after the Sharks scored a goal against the Nashville Predators during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Nashville, Tenn., Saturday. (Frederick Breedon/Frederick Breedon/AP)

Leafs will have hands full with Sharks Add to ...

If anyone knows just how difficult it is to defend against the San Jose Sharks, it's Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson.

Wilson coached the Sharks for four-plus seasons from 2002 to 2008, helping turn what was a non-playoff team into a Western Conference powerhouse after the arrival of Joe Thornton from the Boston Bruins.

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Currently the second-best club in the NHL and again leading the West, San Jose arrives in Toronto on Monday night with a 19-3-2 record since mid-December.

Wilson says he's well aware of what he's up against in the Sharks top line of Thornton with Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley, a trio that has every member among the top eight scorers in the league.

"I know those guys better than anybody in this room," Wilson said. "I've coached two of them for sure.

"Joe's so hard to play against because he's a big physical guy. I know it, I watched it for three or four years - you can't wear him down, you have to try and contain him and take away some of his options."

Part of the strategy for the Leafs, Wilson said, will simply be to remain disciplined given the fact San Jose has more power play goals than every team except the Washington Capitals this season.

"I think we have the defence that can at least slow down San Jose a little bit," said Wilson, staying mum as to which of his defence pairings would get the assignment against that top line. "We have to first focus on staying out of the box - even though our penalty killing's doing a good job, you don't want to give that power play five or six opportunities on the ice because eventually they'll wear you down."

Sharks coach Todd McLellan, meanwhile, said he would be telling his team the 29th-place Leafs have almost as many 5-on-5 goals (118) as his team (120) this season and that they should be wary at even strength.

McLellan has also noticed a significant change in the Leafs since GM Brian Burke overhauled Toronto's roster with two big trades a week ago. The tragic death of Burke's son, Brendan, on Friday in a car accident has made them a closer team, as well, he said.

"Their emotional level's different right now, for obvious reasons," McLellan said. "They've lost teammates, due to trades, and there've been new people that have come in. Obviously the unfortunate incident with Brian's family has changed the emotions around the team a little bit.

"I equate it to us as a family, to your family, if there's [difficult] situations like that, you pull together, and you tend to be a lot stronger. And I see that in their game … I really think that they're a better team than their record indicates."

The Leafs will start netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere in both remaining games before the Olympic break, which begins a week from Monday. San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov gets the start for the Sharks.

Toronto has called up minor leaguer Andre Deveaux for the game due to two suspected cases of food poisoning on the team, but it is unclear whether or not he will play. Leafs defenceman Jeff Finger will be a healthy scratch for the sixth consecutive game.

The Sharks' new-look blueline, with Niclas Wallin in the fold, will also play its first game together. Wallin was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes for a second-round draft pick on Sunday.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

 

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