McGinn trending upward on third line


McGinn trending upward on third line

SAN JOSE Lost in the shuffle of Thursdays game, in which the Sharks reunited second line of Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture and Marty Havlat was dominant in a 4-3 shootout win over Montreal, is that gritty forward Jamie McGinn continued his upward trend.

McGinn tallied a first period goal just 41 seconds after the Canadiens opened the scoring, jamming home a backhanded pass towards the net from Michal Handzus. It was just his third goal of the year, but the 6-1, 210-pound winger has been generating more and more scoring chances and physicality since a quiet first six weeks of the season.

Im just keeping things simple, and playing with confidence, he said on Friday. I know that the chances are there and the puck is bound to go in. Thats one of the things Im concentrating on is just keeping it simple, playing hard, and not giving their D any free outs and creating momentum for the team.

Todd McLellan mentioned earlier in the week how pleased he was with McGinns recent contributions. Although the third line hasnt generated a whole lot of offense up to this point, with just seven goals on the year, the coach senses a growing comfort level between McGinn, Handzus and Torrey Mitchell.

Credit 13-year NHL'er Handzus for helping in that regard.

Zeus is a very good pro, understands how that line needs to play, and he realizes the assets he has on either side of him, whether its Ginners grittiness or Mitches speed, said McLellan. Hes the glue on the line and keeps everything together.

Playing with a guy like Zeus makes things a lot easier, said McGinn. He controls things and slows things down, and keeps me under control, too. Ill try and go get the puck for him, and I have a habit sometimes of running out of position so its good when hes there an older player which knows the game and settles me down a little bit.

Handzus comes off as a fairly quiet reserved guy, but McGinn mentioned that they are constantly chatting off of the ice.

Yeah, all the time, he said. Hes really great, and were getting along great. We talked that maybe the chemistry wasnt there at the start of the year. It takes a little bit of time to get used to each other and know where each other are, so we feel pretty confident on the ice every shift. Hopefully, we start producing a lot more now.

McGinn may be the hardest player on the current Sharks roster to figure out. He began the 2010-11 season on the teams top line, but has bounced between the Sharks and their AHL affiliate in Worcester in each of his first three seasons as a pro.

He played seven games in the playoffs last spring, totaling one assist and 30 penalty minutes, before starting this season on the teams third line where he has been almost entirely.

McLellan admitted on Friday that the Sharks staff may not have done McGinn any favors in how it handled him last year, especially early, after he scored 10 goals in 59 games in 2009-10.

We have to take some of that responsibility. We started the year by putting him in a position where maybe we expected too much offensively, and got him mixed up, said the coach. By the time the middle of the year came around he was a confused player. He was listening to a lot of different people and everyone was trying to help him and had good intentions.

I think we all anticipated 10 goals was going to go to 15, and thats not the way it works for him, said McLellan.

So what did the coaching staff ask from him this September?

Hes using his speed and his size on the forecheck, hes going to the blue paint, and hes good defensively: those are the three things we asked him to do at the beginning of the year, and hes done a pretty good job with it.

The coach is showing confidence in me, and I cant let him or my teammates down with the more the minutes I get, said McGinn. I have to continue playing that way.

McLellan has been so pleased with McGinn lately, specifically the last three-and-a-half weeks, that hes considered moving him up to one of the top two lines. Its unlikely that McLellan will break up the Clowe-Couture-Havlat combination, though, especially after the success they had on Thursday night.

Theres been a temptation on our behalf to bump him up lines, but I think he fits very well where he is right now, said McLellan. Lets not mess him up. Hell have his share of numbers at the end of the year if he maintains that menu that we gave him.

Burns getting his points, but other Sharks d-men are not

Burns getting his points, but other Sharks d-men are not

SAN JOSE – Brent Burns has resumed his place among the NHL’s highest scoring defensemen. His nine points (3g, 6a) puts him first among all blueliners, and ties him for second overall in the league scoring race with six others.

For the rest of the Sharks’ defense corps, though, the points haven’t been there just yet. Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s overtime score on Tuesday was the first goal by a Sharks defenseman that employs the use of a razor on a regular basis, while he and the four others on the back end have combined for just three assists in seven games.

While that lack of production is reflected in the team’s goals-per game average – 2.26, 26th in the NHL – coach Pete DeBoer isn’t all that concerned. He attributes it more to being unlucky than anything else.

“We’ve put a lot of pressure on the other team five-on-five. The puck has bounced, or we just haven’t finished,” DeBoer said. “We’re getting some chances. Most nights we’re out-chancing the other team, and usually that’s a formula for success for us.”

The Sharks have been a strong team in terms of possession, as the coach indicated. They are averaging 32.4 shots per game, fourth in the NHL, and are second in the NHL in shot attempt percentage in close games (56.3 percent).

Still, they could have more. Vlasic, Justin Braun, David Schlemko, Paul Martin and Brenden Dillon have a combined 51 shots on goal, but they’ve also had 48 attempts that have been blocked. In fact, Braun and Martin both have had more attempts blocked than have that made it through to the goalie.

“Five-on-five we haven’t really been getting the tips or the dirty goals around the net that come off shots, but that starts with us getting it through,” said Braun, who has seven shots, but 12 that have been blocked. “The more shots we can get towards the net the better chance we’ll have for the forwards to bang some home, and go from there.”

David Schlemko is also scoreless through seven games, but he managed six shots against the Ducks on Tuesday and has 17 for the year (with 13 blocked). Other than Burns, he’s been the Sharks’ most effective defenseman at getting the puck through.

Brenden Dillon (nine shots, eight blocked) and Paul Martin (five shots, 10 blocked) have one assist each.

Martin indicated that it gets harder and harder every year to get shots through, as more teams commit to getting in lanes. The Sharks also make it a point to put the puck on Burns’ stick as much as they can, considering how much of a weapon he is. Both are factors in those low point totals.

“A lot of times we key on making sure that [Burns] gets the puck. But teams do a better job each year at getting in lanes and blocking shots and fronting pucks and packing it in [around the net],” Martin said. “It’s harder to get pucks through to the net than it used to be.”

The primary role of the defense, of course, is to defend. Except for some notable lapses against the Rangers and Red Wings, the Sharks have been doing that fairly well, holding the opposition to just 24.9 shots per game, second in the NHL.

As long as they keep that up, and Burns continues to produce, the Sharks will be in a good position to win on a nightly basis.

“We’re defending well,” DeBoer said. “That’s our team defense, and that starts with us controlling the play, playing in the other team’s end [and] putting pressure on the other team. I think that’s something that we’ve prided ourselves on all the way back to the beginning of last year.”

Rewind: Vlasic the unlikely hero in Sharks OT win

Rewind: Vlasic the unlikely hero in Sharks OT win

SAN JOSE – Prior to the season’s start, Marc-Edouard Vlasic mentioned that the Sharks’ blue line group might not get the league-wide respect it deserves due to it only having “one offensive defenseman.” He was, of course, referring to Brent Burns.

Through the first six games, that was the truth. Burns entered Tuesday night’s action with nine points, tied for the league lead in scoring, while the other five Sharks defenseman had just three assists – combined.

For at least one night, though, it wasn’t Burns who was the offensive hero. That honor went to Vlasic, who seized a loose puck in the neutral zone in overtime against Anaheim, raced ahead towards goalie John Gibson on a partial breakaway, and finished off a beautiful goal in giving the Sharks a much-deserved 2-1 win at SAP Center.

“Put my head down, breakaway, cut across and I was able to put it in,” said Vlasic, who had the presence of mind to use his skate to keep a backchecking Corey Perry from knocking the puck away. 

Pete DeBoer said: "He's got some speed when he wants to use it, and he's a big game player. That's what he does. Those guys find another level at key times, and he's one of those guys.”

The goal served as poetic justice in that the Sharks were the much better team throughout three periods. San Jose held a 35-20 advantage on the shot clock but only managed one goal, a power play marker by Joe Pavelski in the first period. Chris Wagner answered that late in the second period, despite San Jose registering 15 of the 20 shots in the middle frame.

DeBoer rearranged all four of his forward lines after the Sharks were shut out in Detroit on Saturday, and the Sharks looked much more dangerous despite just the single lonely marker before overtime.

“There’s a lot of good little things that we did well,” Pavelski said. “We were on the attack, felt like we were on the inside. We just weren’t cashing in or getting that bounce.”

Logan Couture said: “We created some chances. We could have had a couple. Each line played pretty well.”

DeBoer, too, liked what he saw from his new combos.

“If we keep playing like that, it's going to come,” he said. “But, it was a nice response game after the Detroit game.”

Perhaps the most consistent part of the Sharks’ game through seven games has been their penalty kill. San Jose fought off all three Ducks advantages, including a brief five-on-three in the first period shortly after Pavelski had opened the scoring.

Micheal Haley took exception to a high hit by Clayton Stoner on Patrick Marleau, and dropped the gloves with the Anaheim defenseman. He was issued an instigation minor to go along with a fighting major and 10-minute misconduct, and one minute and 24 seconds later, Tomas Hertl was busted for a faceoff violation.

Couture, Burns and Paul Martin worked to nullify the two-man advantage, and the Sharks proceeded to kill the remaining time on the Hertl penalty, too.

“It was an important time of the game with a one-goal lead,” said Martin Jones, who made seven saves on the PK and 19 total.

Penalties like Haley’s, where he was sticking up for a teammate, are also easier to get up for according to the goalie.

“I don't think he was expecting to get an instigator call on that one, but yeah, we'll kill that off, for sure,” Jones said. “Hales is a good team guy to go out and do stuff like that."

San Jose is 18-for-22 on the penalty kill overall, including a third period kill of a Joe Thornton holding-the-stick minor at 4:09.

“We’ve allowed [four] goals against, but they were unfortunate bounces or really nice shots from them that we could do nothing about,” Vlasic said. “Penalty kill has been good. Guys have been bearing down, blocking shots when we need to.”

The Sharks will remain at home where they will host the rebuilding Blue Jackets on Thursday and Predators on Saturday. After an odd training camp with many players missing and a tough five-games-in-eight-days road trip after the home opener, they’ll get a chance now to enjoy a much more normal day-to-day routine, with practice.

Tuesday’s win could serve as a solid foundation on which to build.

“That was definitely one of our better games this year,” Couture said. “It was good from basically start to finish.”

Especially the finish.