San Jose delivered a great whopping open-handed slap at their good friends from Detroit Thursday night, but the time it took for them to fire that right hand remains the Sharks largest concern.Beating the Red Wings, 5-2, is result enough for any coach, home or away, but Todd McLellan was asked about the teams odd penchant for letting the other fellows set the early pace, and his ears perked up like a cocker spaniels at the sound of the can opener.
We have to do a better job out of the gate, he said after watching Niklas Kronwalls power play goal give Detroit a 1-0 lead the 11th time in 16 games that the Sharks have had to come from behind. We gotta get our running shoes tightened up and go. We dont have to stand back and figure it out every night. We can impose our will on the other guys from the start. Thats okay to do, too.It is, indeed. But the Sharks after 16 games are an odd team to figure, and Thursday was a perfect example. Detroit at its best beats you with its depth, but it was San Joses third and fourth lines that won the battles and turned the game on its head.That and Antti Niemis best performance in goal all year explained why the Sharks won, although those truths will be obscured by the flashier work of Marc-Edouard Vlasic's goal and three assists, or Joe Thorntons one and one.But the first period was a net loser yet again, and the questions are starting to nag.San Jose is last in first-period goals, with eight. It was seven before Thornton turned a Jason Demers penalty into a goal by breaking up a Detroit rush and finding Joe Pavelski alone in front of Jimmy Howards net at 19:48.San Jose is also second in shots with 35.2 per game, but only 10 of those come in the first period. Thursday, it was a paltry six, and only Niemi kept the game from being a rout right away.So the question for a team that is 10-5-1-0 is, what to do to stay that way. And the answer is within the heads, hearts and legs of the players themselves.McLellan doesnt give his theory, but there is a common theme in many Sharks games this year. He starts rolling four lines faithfully, but as the game goes on, he contrives ways to get his first two lines more time. Sometimes it comes via the power play, other times he just shortens his bench until the top six have worked up a proper lather.But it seems after a number of games of this that the Thorntons and Clowes and Marleaus and Coutures and Pavelskis need to run, and get sluggish when they cant. It isnt an insurmountable problem, but it flies in the face of McLellans orthodoxy, which is that the Sharks need four lines to win games consistently.Thursday was one of those infrequent times when he got enough from the third and fourth lines to render the slow start moot, but the herks and jerks of the early schedule and the fact that players are still not in sync with each other have made these Sharks just tentative enough to make the winning come harder than sometimes it should.But it is arrogant to think that consistent pace will come automatically. Rhythm does not make itself, it has to be forced into action, the Sharks have not yet managed that. McLellans teams are 116-23-14 when scoring first, so the template is there. It just hasnt been made to shape this team yet.