Handzus: 'I know I can play better'

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Handzus: 'I know I can play better'

COLUMBUS When the Sharks acquired spunky center Dominic Moore from the Tampa Bay Lightning late last week and inserted him into the lineup, it was obvious whose place he was taking when he made his debut on Friday night in Carolina.

The 31-year-old center started the game between Jamie McGinn and Torrey Mitchell the same place Michal Handzus has been for virtually the entire season.

In fact, the Handzus-McGinn-Mitchell combination has been coach Todd McLellans most consistent threesome this year. That is, before Doug Wilson sent a second round pick to the Lightning in exchange for Moore and a seventh rounder.

Against Carolina, Handzus played a team-low of just seven minutes and 21 seconds while playing on the fourth line. On Sunday in Detroit, Handzus started the game on the wing with Moore and Jamie McGinn and played 13:03, still less than his season average of almost 15 minutes.

Todd McLellan gave his thoughts on Handzus season after an optional skate at Nationwide Arena on Monday.

I think Zeus has gone in spurts throughout the year where hes been really good, and then it kind of falls off a little bit. Right now, wed like to see him get it going a little bit more, said McLellan. Hes very much a pro. Youre able to sit and talk with him and communicate. He knows that. He knows it.

Handzus offense hasnt dropped off, as his 22 points in 56 games actually puts him ahead of his pace of 30 points in 82 last season while he was still with the Los Angeles Kings.

The more alarming number when looking at the stats is that Handzus, 34, has a -3 rating: not always an accurate number of how a player is playing defensively, but still the third worst on the team ahead of Colin White (-5), who has not been very effective this season, and Jason Demers (-7), who had a nightmarish October.

Even Handzus has a hard time pointing out what specifically he can improve upon just that he wants to play better.

Its all different things. Nothing specific there, but I know I can play better. Ive been through it before so Im just trying to focus on the positives and get better, he said.

Handzus is the definition of a consummate professional, and theres little doubt that hes helped McGinn improve in what is easily McGinns best season as a pro. McGinn has said numerous times that Handzus has helped him not just on the ice, but off, in terms of talking and communicating about what it takes to be successful.

While Handzus appears to be the quiet type in the locker room, it sounds like hes anything but when it comes to trying to help out his linemates and teammates in general. It's also the reason McLellan has said that Handzus would make an excellent coach one day.

As for the acquisition of Moore Handzus has been around long enough that he doesnt need another player in the fold pushing him to play better.

Thats got to come from within.

If I was to be pushed by somebody coming in, I think thats wrong. I know I havent been happy with myself. Moore is going to help us for sure, and hes a very good player whos played a lot of big games and played very well. I dont look at it that way.

Zeus has been a real valuable player to our team, McLellan said. When we play this many games on the road, we have to watch his minutes and have to watch fatigue. I think Dominic can come in and alleviate some of that, at times. Theyre both going to be important players down the stretch, and as far as we go.
Taking the option: The Sharks held an optional skate on Monday at Nationwide Arena, and the majority of the team decided to take that option and not skate on what was the midway point of the 16-day trek.

"Well try and use our time wisely and rest up, because we will be playing a lot of hockey from here on out," Joe Pavelski said.

The Sharks visit the Maple Leafs on Thursday, Predators on Saturday and Wild on Sunday before returning home next Tuesday to host Philadelphia.

Brent Burns working through offensive dry spell

Brent Burns working through offensive dry spell

DALLAS – Brent Burns hasn’t altered his routine, despite his name not showing up on the scoresheet for a little while.

“It’s not like I stopped eating the same meal or I’m not sleeping anymore,” Burns said on Thursday, after a rare Sharks road practice. “It’s the same. I do the same thing every game.”

What he hasn’t been doing every game, like he seemed to be for the first three-quarters of the season, is racking up points. The Norris Trophy frontrunner hasn’t potted a goal in his last 14 games, and is scoreless in his last seven. He still leads the Sharks with 70 points, and has four more points than Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson for the most among NHL defensemen, but there’s no denying he’s hit a cold streak. Previously, he hadn't gone more than three games without a point.

He’s not the only one, of course, as the Sharks have managed just four goals in their last four games, all regulation losses. But when a team is struggling to put the puck in the net, it’s often the top guys that have to lead the resurgence. And no one has been better or more important to the Sharks this season than the 32-year-old blueliner.

Could it be that as Burns goes, so do the Sharks? The team is 33-9-3 when Burns finds the scoresheet, and just 9-15-4 when he doesn't.

Coach Pete DeBoer doesn’t think so, though, pointing to the Sharks putting up plenty of offense at the start of Burns’ dry spell, including nine combined goals in wins over Dallas and Buffalo last week.

“I don’t think we only score when Brent Burns is on. I think we’re deeper than that. I think we’ve shown that,” DeBoer said. “He hasn’t scored in awhile, and up until a few games ago we were putting up some significant goals and numbers and offense. 

“I think even the nights he’s not scoring, we’ve generated lots of chances. Other than the St. Louis game (a 4-1 loss on March 16), the last three games we’ve lost, we’ve generated enough chances that on a lot of nights that’s three or four goals. But, that’s not just [on] Burnzie…It’s some other guys bearing down and sticking it in the net. It will come.”

Joe Thornton believes that the forwards can also do more to help Burns, who has become the team’s most valuable offensive weapon with his ability to get shots or passes through from a distance with velocity and precision like few players in the NHL can.

“He’s obviously a dominant player, and I think we just need to help him out,” Thornton said. “It shouldn’t always be on one guy, I think we’ve got to give him better opportunities to put him in better spots. It shouldn’t all lay on his shoulders. We’re not doing a good enough job to kind of work away from him, and getting him opportunities.”

Burns, of course, is a guy that wears his heart on his sleeve. During practice, his hooting and hollering can typically be heard echoing throughout the rink. Simply put, no one has more fun than this guy.

So, is the cold streak weighing on him? Maybe a little bit.

“I think it weighs on him, for sure,” DeBoer said. “We have good dialogue, there’s a lot of communication, especially with him and [assistant coach Bob Boughner]. And also, him and his teammates. The guys know how much responsibility he takes on himself – sometimes too much. Guys are good with that, they recognize that.”

Thornton said: “When you’re a d-man and you get so many goals and so many assists, you kind of expect it’s going to happen every night, but that’s just not the reality of it. He’s doing something that hardly [any] d-men do in the history of the game. … He’s capable of just getting out of that quick, and pouring it on like he has in the first 65 games of the year.”

For now, Burns is taking every new day and new game as it comes, and said: “It’s no different if you’ve won four in a row and you’ve got 10 points.”

And if he did have 10 points in his last four games?

“You want 12. If you’ve got zero, you want one. Then 12,” he said.

Notes: Injured Sharks Hansen, Karlsson return to practice

Notes: Injured Sharks Hansen, Karlsson return to practice

DALLAS – Injured Sharks forwards Jannik Hansen and Melker Karlsson both returned to the ice for Thursday’s practice in Dallas, in what Pete DeBoer called “a good first step” in their recoveries.

The coach left open the possibility that one or both could play against the Stars on Friday night, even though neither was skating on a set line for practice.

“We’ll have to wait and see how they feel [Friday] morning and what the recovery is,” DeBoer said. “I’m not prepared to say they’re in tomorrow, but it’s a good sign they’re on the ice and participated.”

Hansen has been out for the past two games since getting a stick in the head from defenseman Brandon Montour on Saturday against Anaheim. 

“Took a couple days [off] to make sure everything was aright,” Hansen said. “Getting better, back on the ice today.”

Officially, it’s an upper body injury. When pressed if it was a concussion issue, Hansen said: “I don’t know. It’s tough to say to begin with, but obviously you do all the precautionary things that [are] involved now.”

Although he has just one assist in his first six games with the Sharks, Hansen seemed to spark the Sharks’ top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, as the line generated one even strength goal in each of the first four games Hansen played.

Karlsson has missed the last six games with a lower body injury. He has 19 points (9g, 10a) in 60 games with a plus-nine rating.

* * *

The lines remained the same for Thursday’s practice. Patrick Marleau was with Thornton and Pavelski; Logan Couture centered Joel Ward and Mikkel Boedker; Tomas Hertl was between Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen, while the fourth line sweaters were worn by Chris Tierney, Micheal Haley, Timo Meier and Danny O’Regan.

San Jose stayed over in St. Paul on Tuesday night and flew to Dallas on Wednesday morning on their day off.

The Wild game, a 3-2 loss, was the Sharks’ fourth straight. They’ve generated just four goals over that span.

That game also capped off a stretch of seven games in 11 days for the Sharks, who now have just a two-point lead on Anaheim for first place in the Pacific Division – a lead that was nine points before the losing streak began.

Was the day off good?

“Yeah. We’ve been kind of struggling scoring goals, so just to kind of relax yesterday and then kind of get back and refocus today,” Thornton said. “But sometimes you just need a little time away from the rink. I think yesterday was needed.”

DeBoer said: “I think our group is pretty mature. I don’t think we’re overeating to the situation. No one’s happy we’ve lost a few, but we also know that we’ve done enough good things that we could have won two or three of those games. We’ve just got to stick with it, clean up a couple things, and score some goals.”

* * *

Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic skated after missing Tuesday’s game with the flu. Tierney missed Monday’s game in Dallas, also due to illness.

Is that all gone now?

“Knock on wood. Nothing today. Hope so,” DeBoer said.