Ratto: Sharks pulling out all the stops

December 5, 2010, 5:01 pm
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MONTREAL, QC -- A quiet morning in Montreal, and things are afoot with the Sharks. Not big things, mind you, and not permanent ones, either. In fact, what we saw might have only been operative for the morning skate at CentreBell after San Jose's 3-1 loss Saturday to the Canadiens.
REWIND: Sharks stifled in Montreal
But there it was anyway - Patrick Marleau, wearing the teal practice jersey of a third liner and spending the pre-practice talking with (well, listening to, mostly) heads coach Todd McLellan about the difference between his performance Saturday and what will be required of him Monday in Detroit. "We talk all the time, so the only real difference is that you saw us," McLellan said. "We might just do this today and see how it goes, but mostly we talked about we want to see him get a little closer to the blue paint (the crease in front of the net), to try and get some rebounds, create some more chances." Marleau wasn't the only culprit, although he has come to wear that tag often in his career. But there is logic in breaking up the Joe Thornton-Marleau-Dany Heatley line to see if Marleau can invigorate not only himself but also the equally struggling Joe Pavelski-Jamie McGinn-Torrey Mitchell line. Mitchell looks like the choice to take Marleau's place on the Thornton line based on Sunday's skate, but nothing is set in, well, anything, really. The more material change comes on defense, where Mike Moore was reassigned to Worcester in the American Hockey League, the firmest indication that Jason Demers is back and available. McLellan, though, said that both he and Niclas Wallin were options for Monday night against the Wings, who are coming back home after a 3-2 overtime loss in Los Angeles. McLellan also picked out the fourth line of Scott Nichol, Jamal Mayers and John McCarthy for increased energy against the Wings after being outplayed by Montreal's group of Mathieu Darche, Benoit Pouliot and Lars Eller. "We need the same tenacity we saw in Ottawa (Thursday night)," McLellan said. "They have to play to that standard. They can't play to a different level. They were reminded of that the way, and they played better in Ottawa. I'd like to see that same investment every day." Right now, the scholarship line is Logan CoutureRyane CloweBenn Ferriero, which continued to be a clear difference-maker against the Canadiens. But perhaps this tweakage will shrink the difference between their performance as a unit and those of the other three groups. San Jose is tied for 10th with St. Louis (same record, slightly better goal difference), and other than a stretch in early November have not really put a roll together, as they have in past seasons. They are currently on a seven-game run of alternating results, but could, with a win on Monday and the right other results go from 11th to fifth, and from last in the Pacific Division to tied for first. That, though, is not relevant to the point McLellan tried to make of and with Marleau Sunday morning. The Sharks are in one of those stretches they occasionally have in which they play to the level of exertion they want to expend rather than the level they must, and as a result are off to what can only be considered a profoundly disappointing start. Moving Marleau is not an answer, nor is it even good scapegoating. It is a measure of the fact that the Sharks do not have the same margins they had even last year. Maybe they lose that game to the Canadiens anyway; Carey Price was very good in goal, and Tomas Plekanec had the run of the rink. But they rarely play so horribly that you think they stink. Their problems come when it's hard to differentiate one player from the next, because when they are indistinguishable, they are beatable. And it gets no easier tomorrow or Wednesday in Philadelphia.What's on your mind? Email Ray and let him know. He may use it in his Mailbag.