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.
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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.
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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.
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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.