Meeting helps Sharks' fourth-liners

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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.

NHL Gameday: Sharks host Bruins in final game before week of rest

NHL Gameday: Sharks host Bruins in final game before week of rest

Programming note – Sharks-Bruins coverage starts today at 5:30 p.m. on NBCSN

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 35-18-6, 76 points, 1st Pacific Division
Bruins: 29-23-6, 64 points, 4th Atlantic Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***The Sharks will be playing their second of a back-to-back, and final game before the bye week, in a rare matinee start time at SAP Center against Boston. Saturday’s 4-1 win in Arizona was just San Jose’s second in its last seven games, although they have points in six of those (2-1-4). San Jose is 4-2-4 since reeling off six straight wins from Jan. 16 – 24, and has a four-point lead on Edmonton for first place in the Pacific Division.

***Boston will be playing for the first time since its bye week, which may not have come at a good time. The Bruins reeled off three straight wins after changing coaches from Claude Julien to interim Bruce Cassidy, the first of which came against the Sharks at TD Garden on Feb. 9. The Bruins haven’t played since last Sunday, a 4-0 home win over Montreal.

***Joe Thornton brings a five-game point streak into tonight’s game (2g, 4a). He sits two assists shy of becoming the 13th player in NHL history to reach 1000 assists.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Melker Karlsson. The fourth line winger was the star of last night’s game in Arizona, posting one goal and two assists, and getting credit for the game-winning goal. Karlsson, second on the Sharks in shorthanded time on ice per game, has two goals and three points in three career games against the Bruins.

Bruins: Patrice Bergeron. The three-time Selke Trophy winner posted four points (1g, 3a) against the Sharks in Boston 10 days ago, and is third on the team in scoring with 33 points (14g, 19a). The 31-year-old is just one assist shy of 400 for his career, and is eighth on the Bruins’ all-time scoring list.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Kevin Labanc – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – Mikkel Boedker
Nikolay Goldobin – Tomas Hertl – Joel Ward
Micheal Haley – Chris Tierney – Melker Karlsson

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones
Aaron Dell

Bruins
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Backes
Peter Cehlarik – David Krejci – David Pasternak
Frank Vatrano – Ryan Spooner – Jimmy Hayes
Tim Schaller – Dominic Moore – Riley Nash

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo
Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid
Kevan Miller – Colin Miller

Tuukka Rask
Anton Khudobin

INJURIES

Sharks: Joonas Donskoi (upper body) and Dylan DeMelo (broken wrist) are out.

Bruins: Austin Czarnik (lower body) is out.

QUOTEABLE

“He’s having an MVP season. He’s been that good for us all year and it’s every night. I don’t know what else to say. In my mind right now he’s the best player in the league, and we’re happy to have him on our team.” – Pete DeBoer on Brent Burns after Saturday’s Sharks win in Arizona, in which Burns had two goals

Three takeaways: Fourth line leads the way for Sharks in Arizona

Three takeaways: Fourth line leads the way for Sharks in Arizona

For the first time in five tries this season the Sharks managed to secure a regulation win over the last place Coyotes, 4-1 at Gila River Arena on Saturday. They keep their four-point lead over Edmonton, and are assured of going into the bye week in sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division.

Here are our three takeaways from the win…

1 – Burns turns the tide…again

For the second time in a week, Brent Burns changed the momentum of a game with his deadly wrist shot. The Sharks were on their heels early – Arizona had a 16-9 shot advantage in the first period, perhaps jolted be a pregame ceremony – but Burns’ shot through traffic staked the Sharks a 1-0 lead and they were on their way.

“We kind of weathered their storm early,” Joe Pavelski told reporters. “There was a lot of energy in the building.”

It was similar to a game in New Jersey last Sunday, when Burns had a pair of second period goals, erasing a 1-0 deficit and putting his team on the track to victory.

According to Elias, Burns – who added a third period power play goal, too – is the first defenseman to score 18 goals on the road since Paul Coffey’s 22 in 1983-84. His 26 goals equal his total from last season, tying his franchise record.

“He’s having an MVP season,” Pete DeBoer told reporters. “He’s been that good for us all year and it’s every night. I don’t know what else to say. In my mind right now he’s the best player in the league, and we’re happy to have him on our team.”

Burns remains in third in the league in scoring with 63 points, four points behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid.

2 – Dell gets the job done…again

Getting his second start in a week, Aaron Dell made a new season high (and, thus, career high) with 36 saves. His best stop was early in the second period on Radim Vrbata, when he managed to snag a pin-balling puck from crossing the line, keeping the Sharks ahead 2-0. Had that one trickled over, the Coyotes might have been able to seize the momentum.

“I think I had it the whole time,” Dell told reporters. “I kind of saw it for a second and then when I turned back I was able to find it and scoop it underneath me.”

DeBoer said: “He’s been good every time we’ve put him in there.”

Dell, whose goals-against average is down to 1.95, outplayed Sharks nemesis Mike Smith, who had stopped 121 of 127 San Jose shots in three games this season.

“We got to Smitty in the first period, which was great,” Pavelski said. “We kind of know what he’s done to us the past few games, stopping a lot of pucks. … That was a big key for us.”

3 – Fourth line magic

Through two periods, the Sharks’ top two lines had generated a total of three shots on goal – one each from Joe Thornton, Kevin Labanc and Patrick Marleau.

Fortunately for the big guys, the fourth line was there to pick up the slack. Melker Karlsson posted three points (1g, 2a), Micheal Haley had one goal and one assist, and the fourth line generated all three of San Jose’s goals through 40 minutes.

One goal from the fourth line is a bonus. Three is virtually unheard of. 

“They showed up and played the right way,” DeBoer said. “Right from the drop of the puck they put pucks behind the other teams defense, they had good support, they created a lot of chances, and got rewarded for it. I think Dell and them were the difference in the game early through the first half, until we got going a little bit.”