Sharks notebook: McLellan's lucky line change

February 6, 2011, 10:38 pm
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BOSTON -- Sometimes it takes a little luck to find the right chemistry. Sharks coach Todd McLellan admitted as much on Sunday, when he could have easily branded himself a genius for putting Ben Eager, Kyle Wellwood and Logan Couture together for the 2-0 win against the Bruins on Saturday. Although it didnt generate any even strength goals, the trio was the most effective line of the afternoon in terms of putting pressure on a very good Boston defense corps. Thats no small feat, as the Bruins allow the fewest goals-against per game in the NHL.RECAP: Niemi skunks Bruins, Sharks 2-0 on road trip
The only reason they were together, though, was due to Coutures recent illness, McLellan said after practice on the campus of Boston University. The star rookie was seeing his first action since a two-game absence with a devastating flu bug, and McLellan wanted to monitor his minutes.I was concerned about his energy level and the ability to play more minutes than he normally would, McLellan said of Couture. We put him with Ben because Ben has some energy, and Kyle can play the middle and the wing. It was more a way to protect Logan coming off the flu than it was to alter our lines.Its safe to say that he was happy with the resulting effort.As it turns out it was one of our better lines, and we may just keep it that way for awhile, he said.Ever the good soldier, Couture doesnt seem to care who hes playing with or on what line. His power play goal in the first period, which ended up as the game-winner, is evidence that he is still going to find a way to contribute no matter who he is skating with five-on-five.Couture considered playing with Eager, especially, to be advantageous.It seemed like we had some chemistry, he said. Hes a big body, protects pucks well, and creates space for Welly and me on the ice. When the D-men see him coming down the ice theyre not so sure they want to go get the puck. I enjoyed playing with him.Eager, who arrived on Jan. 18 in a trade with Atlanta, had what was probably his best game in a San Jose uniform against Boston. He was skating well and was up and down the ice all afternoon at TD Garden, throwing his 235 pounds around and causing a commotion in front of the goal crease. Although his incidental contact with Bruins goalie Tim Thomas nullified a goal in the second period, thats exactly the kind of play that McLellan wants to see out of the hulking winger.In fact, Eager has already been rewarded for his strong play by the coach.Ben Eager came in as a guy that we penciled in on that fourth line, but hes played well enough and worked his way up to that third line now, said McLellan. Its his job to keep it. He did a really good job Saturday against the Bruins.Eager came to San Jose as a familiar face, having been with the Chicago Blackhawks for parts of three seasons, including last years Stanley Cup champion club. He benefitted in that he already knew two players on the Sharks roster goalies Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki. In fact, he won a championship with both, as Niemi was his teammate last year in Chicago while he and Niittymaki won an AHL Calder Cup. That came during the NHLs lockout year of 2004-05 with the Philadelphia Phantoms, then the farm team of the Flyers.His friends helped to ease his transition back into the Western Conference.They were great, said Eager. Me and Niitty stayed in touch throughout the years, and whenever weve played each other we always chat. Antti I was with last year, and it was nice to have them on the roster.Eager admitted that when the trade happened, he was a bit shocked. Fortunately, though, he knew what he was getting into in joining San Jose.Its been a new experience, but I played against them a lot the last couple of years when I was in Chicago. Its what I expected a hard working group of guys and theres a lot of skill in this room and character. Im happy to be here and its been a lot of fun so far.Whats likely making it even more enjoyable is that Eager has steadily seen his ice time increase, culminating in more than 12 minutes on Saturday.Yeah, it was good. I got to play, played some good minutes, and was playing with two good players. I just tried to keep it simple and I thought we did a good job.Super Bowl plansThe Sharks flew to Washington immediately following practice in Boston, where they had spent the last three nights adjusting to East Coast time. They should get to the nations capital in plenty of time to catch the Super Bowl between the Packers and Steelers.McLellan was asked if he had any plans for the game.Well watch the game, he said. I think its an exciting event. Theres a lot of build-up to it, but it will be fun to watch.

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