November 26, 2014

The stigma of Calgary's fall from last year's playoff darlings to this season's surprising disappointment added another black mark when coach Bob Hartley benched three forwards, including the Flames' top two scorers.

They persevered without them for one night, but they'll need them in the right frame of mind moving forward if they plan on returning to the postseason.

Calgary begins a back-to-back set of road matchups with foes sitting above them in the Pacific Division standings as Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Lance Bouma return to the lineup Thursday night against the San Jose Sharks.

The trio served as healthy scratches for Tuesday's 4-3 win over Toronto after Hartley levied discipline for an unspecified violation of team rules. Hartley conducted a brief practice Monday before leaving the ice and initially stating that at least Bouma was "feeling ill."

He declined to go into specific reasons for the benching, but the move doesn't look good for a team fighting to regain the highs of 2014-15. The Flames (24-25-3) surprisingly made the playoffs for the first time in six seasons and beat Vancouver in the first round before falling to top-seeded Anaheim.

They're sixth in the Pacific this season, though, seven points behind Nashville for the Western Conference's final wild-card spot and eight back of the Ducks for the division's last automatic playoff berth.

"The best apology for us three is to come out against San Jose and have our best game of the season and help this team win and help this team move up in the standings," said Gaudreau whose 49 points lead the Flames, with Monahan's 35 ranking second. "We had a pretty sincere apology, but the best apology would be helping this team win as much as possible and playing our best hockey the rest of the season."

Calgary won for the third time in four games with help from Markus Granlund, who had a goal and an assist after being a healthy scratch for the previous three. It first will try to gain ground on the second-place Sharks (28-20-4) before facing Arizona on Friday.

San Jose has won two of the three meetings this season, most recently overcoming Monahan's goal and Gaudreau's two assists in a 5-4 victory Jan. 11.

"Those are probably two of the most important games of our season," Hartley said. "This is a great situation for us. Two huge games against two teams that are playing very well. We're playing very well, too. Lets improve our road record and lets collect some big wins."

The Sharks split a four-game road trip after blanking Chicago 2-0 on Tuesday. Patrick Marleau scored on the power play and Joe Thornton added an empty netter to support Martin Jones, who stopped 33 shots for his fifth shutout of the season.

Jones has allowed one goal or none in three of his last five starts and is 9-2-1 with a 2.06 goals-against average since Jan. 9.

"The guys played hard and gave them, really, nothing," said captain Joe Pavelski, who assisted on Marleau's goal. "The (penalty kill) was great (and) the power play (was, too). (Jones) was solid. (We're) playing a good team game right now."

Jones could be in net again as the Sharks look to improve on their 10-12-2 home record. Thornton has two goals and two assists this season against the Flames, who haven't named a starter in net.

Jonas Hiller has started the last two but should split duties with Karri Ramo on the trip.

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