The San Jose Sharks found three ways to motivate themselves Thursday night after a rancid beginning, and between them they had just barely enough to win a game they really didnt merit.In beating the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team with the best record in the NHL through the 16th pole, the Sharks gave themselves every known disadvantage. A first night after a long road trip, a 17-minute pregame ceremony for Joe Thorntons 1006th NHL game, and three minutes of truly hideous goaltending from the still-gimpy Antti Niemi all conspired to put them down 2-0 to a team that does not blow 2-0 leads.But then come those motivators, the ones that pushed them from two-down to 4-3 shootout victors.RECAP: Clowe lifts Sharks to shootout win
One, a sharp between-periods lecture from their prickly schoolmarm, Todd McLellan, which resulted in three shuffled lines. You always know hes got the red neck when Torrey Mitchell is on with Thornton, and so he was for much of the last two periods.Two, Ryane Clowe, who scored both the second and game-winning goal in the extra-extra session, engaged Pittsburgh defenseman Deryk Engelland in a fight six seconds into the second period, ostensibly as retribution for a clean check on Thornton in the first, but mostly to slap some sense into his comatose teammates.And the third the dead, disapproving atmosphere in the building. Sharks fans do not boo much, though they tried it out a bit in the first period. What they do, is shut up.I think thats they way they boo, McLellan said. You could tell they were having none of what we were giving them tonight. No, they dont boo much here but I think they just withheld their energy tonight until they saw us give some to them.The Clowe fight, which he cheerfully admitted was entirely contrived, helped some, even though Engelland, a promising defenseman with some fistic skills, didnt want to leave the Pens two defensemen short after they lost Ben Lovejoy to an injury.He didnt want to, but I sort of kept at him, and then he obliged, Clowe said with a matter-of-factness that belies the sense of waste he must feel when he has to volunteer to provide team-wide adrenalin by hitting someone who hasnt really merited it.And the line changes? McLellan does that a lot, but he is likely to switch back to the regular complements for Saturdays game against Nashville. We have to give them a chance to fix it, he said drily.And as for Niemi, he will likely start as well, because whether his twice-surgeried knee will allow it or not, he has shown he is better with steady work than with regular rest. He does very little in practices because of the injury, but even allowing for that, he was underinvolved from the opening drop.The fans, though, are an interesting twist, because McLellan is the first to credit their level of discernment with a nuance and sophistication most fans dont deliver.Most fans boo. They curse. They throw beer. They get their moneys worth in dyspepsia when they cant get it in glee.But McLellan is right. We have been waiting for the fans to act like regular fans, when in fact they operate more as disapproving parents. They came, they didnt like what they saw, so they folded their 35,124 arms and decided, Well speak with you when were good and ready.It is, in some ways, a very Canadian response. There is nothing more quiet than a Canadian rink when things are going poorly for the home side, be it in Vancouver, Montreal, or the five points inbetween. They use their voices as currency, and withhold them when they have decided the players dont deserve them.And the Sharks did not deserve them for the first period and a fair chunk of the second. And yet, they have now won six of their last seven games, and stand fifth in the West, tiebreakers ahead of Phoenix, Nashville, Los Angeles and Colorado.McLellan plans a spirited practice Friday with plenty of rub-your-nose-in-it film study for the brutal start, but it wont all be punitive. The Preds are not an easy get, and the Sharks need improvement as well as lectures.But they cant wait for Clowe to pick a fight with Jordin Tootoo to get going, or McLellan to start alphabetizing his line combinations during the National Anthem. They need to begin their work faster if they want to avoid being shunned by their audience.Yes. Fan silence the new profanity.