Meeting helps Sharks' fourth-liners

588412.jpg

Meeting helps Sharks' fourth-liners

SAN JOSE The Sharks returned home at the end of October from what was an extremely successful road trip, with five wins in six games. That didnt mean that the club didnt have any improvements to make, though.

One in particular was the fourth line. Andrew Desjardins, Andrew Murray and Brad Winchester had been together for just about every game and every practice since the beginning of training camp, and coach Todd McLellan wanted to see more from that group, which wasnt playing enough in the offensive end or generating any energy or momentum.

McLellan called a meeting shortly after the team returned, and wanted some answers -- but he also wanted to hear any questions they might have.

RELATED: Desjardins stats splits game logs

When I brought them in, I started by asking them some questions. Sometimes I like the answers, sometimes I dont. But, I ask the questions, so I have to listen to the answers, McLellan said.

It cant be one-way communication. It doesnt matter who you talk to -- a line or an individual. You have to be prepared to ask questions, listen to the answers, and vice versa.

RELATED: Murray stats splits game logs

Since then, the fourth line has seen its ice time gradually increase over the homestand. Against Pittsburgh on Nov. 3, none of the three played more than seven minutes. Two nights later against Nashville, Murrays 5:03 was a game-high among the trio.

In the past two games, however, they are all closer to the eight-minute mark, which is about where McLellan wants them in a standard game that is not dominated on power play and penalty kill time.

RELATED: Winchester stats splits game logs

Theyre in the game more. More grind time in the offensive zone and holding onto pucks, drawing more penalties than were taking. As a result, their minutes have gone up, he said. A lot of the things weve asked them to do, theyve brought to the table the last few nights.

All three players look back positively on the meeting with McLellan. Its vital to play for a coach that listens to his players, rather than barks out orders all of the time, Murray said.

Were obviously out there to get things accomplished, and he wanted a little bit of feedback from us, what we feel like were doing out there and what we can be doing better, he said. Sometimes, looking at it from his position, he can see things a little bit differently and help guys out that way. I think its important to have those open lines of communication.

Desjardins agreed. Its good to get on the same page and be able to work together. Its good to get feedback, and you have to respond to that. I think we have to continue to respond, and just get better.

While its not necessarily the fourth lines job to put pucks in the net, all three would like to contribute a little more on the scoresheet. In fact, since Desjardins scored twice on opening night and Winchester tallied an assist on one of those goals, none of the three has registered a single point since then. Murray is still looking for his first.

If we keep doing things the right way, I think well get rewarded, said Murray. Obviously, the pucks havent been going in as much as wed like, but I think if we can just get those chances and bury a few, and keep them out of our zone and from getting opportunities, its very good on our part.

Finally putting one past the goaltender could be a used as a good motivator to keep playing hard.

Were playing most of the game in the offensive zone or neutral zone, and were in and out of our end. But, I think if you talked to all three of us, were not satisfied, said Desjardins. We want to contribute, and we want to be a bigger contributor every night. As soon as youre satisfied, thats when things start to go.

Were just trying to push, and be better and better every day.

Sharks get some down time with a break in schedule

Sharks get some down time with a break in schedule

SAN JOSE – A weekend with no games on the NHL calendar is rare enough. A weekend without any games or practices, though? That’s virtually unheard of in the middle of the season.

But with nothing until Wednesday's home game, and after a stretch of 10 games in 18 days, Sharks coach Pete DeBoer chose to give the players and staff a full Saturday and Sunday off. DeBoer and assistant coach Johan Hedberg were seen quickly scurrying from SAP Center a few short minutes after the game ended, while defenseman Brent Burns had his massive camouflage backpack stuffed to capacity while conducing his postgame media availability.

“It’s packed and ready to go,” Burns said, without going into any detail as to what exactly was in the bag.

DeBoer explained his rationale behind the respite on Friday morning.

“The way [the schedule] laid out after the month we’ve just had – the injuries, the stuff we’ve dealt with – it just made sense. We’ve got another push until the Christmas break after this with a tough schedule. 

“With our travel and the World Cup and everything, it didn’t make sense to come down here and skate when we had a chance to actually recharge mentally and physically.”

Although the team was aware of the break for some time, there’s no question that the Sharks have earned it. As they wake up on Saturday morning (presumably after sleeping in), they find themselves with a three-point cushion in the Pacific Division with a 15-9-1 mark. San Jose has won six of its last seven, including triumphs over perennial contender Chicago, chief rival Los Angeles, and the top team in the Eastern Conference, Montreal.

Their two longest road trips of the season are also already behind them, including a five-game trip in October and a six-gamer in November.

Joe Pavelski is pleased with what he’s seen so far, despite the challenging circumstances.

“Guys have handled it well,” said the captain. “There hasn’t been a whole lot of rest time, and we’ve found a few different ways to win, especially on nights that it hasn’t been easy. The biggest thing is guys have shown up and played hard. We’ve got a pretty good structure in here, guys are responsible, we’ve found a few goals, and [Martin Jones] gives us a chance every night.”

Joe Thornton said: “It’s been a lot of hockey. It will be nice to get a couple days after this to relax and recover a little bit.”

The schedule will ramp up again in short order. After three games in four nights next week, the Sharks will fly to Toronto and open up a four-games-in-six-days road trip with the Maple Leafs on Dec. 13.

* * *

The Sharks reassigned forwards Kevin Labanc and Ryan Carpenter to the AHL Barracuda on Saturday morning. Carpenter was a healthy scratch on Friday as Tommy Wingels got back in the lineup. 

It’s likely that the move was made at least partially because the Sharks are up against the salary cap, and that one or both players could return by the time they host the Senators on Wednesday.

Three takeaways: Sharks see similarities between Jones, Price

Three takeaways: Sharks see similarities between Jones, Price

SAN JOSE – The Sharks continued their hot streak with a 2-1 win over the Canadiens in a classic goaltender’s duel Friday night. The three takeaways from the game…

1 – Price, Jones similarities

Martin Jones was the standout star with his 31 saves, but the Sharks had to beat Carey Price on the other end to reward their own goalie. Price entered the night as the NHL leader in save percentage (.947), and third in goals-against average (1.68) and is probably on his way to another Vezina Trophy at the end of the season.

That the game came down to a battle in net was no surprise, as a prescient Pete DeBoer said Friday morning “we have to be prepared to win 2-1.”

There was talk after the game that there are some similarities between the Sharks emerging goaltender and the Canadiens superstar. 

“Actually, we spoke to [Sharks assistant/goaltending coach] Johan Hedberg about that, and he does see a lot of similarities between the two of them,” assistant coach Steve Spott said. “Their mannerisms in the net – they're both very, very calm. Both very quick. And both hockey clubs believe in their goaltenders. It was a great duo on that ice tonight. I think for any fan to see those two goaltenders was pretty special tonight."

Brent Burns, who won the World Cup with Price in September, said: “Very similar. … [Jones is] unflappable. They’re both big, very calm and great positioning. Very similar.”

2 – Strong start

The Sharks knew they were getting the weekend off from practice after the game, with no chance of any late changes as DeBoer and Hedberg were seen quickly departing for getaway flights after the final horn (that’s why Spott handled the postgame media duties). 

At this point in DeBoer’s second season, there seems to be a real trust factor between the coaching staff and the veteran team that no one will start their mini-break early. The Sharks were flying in the first period, jumping all over the Canadiens and seizing a 2-0 lead that Jones helped preserve over the final two frames.

Spott said: “It was good to come out like that and establish that momentum. We know how fast Montreal is and how deep they are up front, and obviously we know Carey Price. It was a good start. We were able to hold onto that."

“Whether you get the days off, you want to play hard,” Joe Pavelski said. “You want to come out [quickly], especially at home, at the starts.” 

3 – Escaping injury

Injuries are always a concern with so many games in so few days, and there were a few scary moments for San Jose.

The Sharks lost Kevin Labanc for a stretch in the first period after the rookie went hard into the boards on a hit by Alexei Emelin, but he came back in the second after he apparently went through some concussion tests.

Spott said: “He took a good hit. He came back. He went in and had to obviously do some [head injury] protocol.”

David Schlemko’s situation looked much worse, as the defenseman limped off of the ice and up the tunnel in the second period with what looked like a right leg or ankle problem. He returned midway through the third, though.

“It didn't look good when we saw it on video, but thankfully I think we dodged a bullet there,” Spott said.