SAN JOSE – There was a notable change in lines as the Sharks continued their preparation for the Los Angeles Kings.
Rookie Tomas Hertl was reunited with the Joe Thornton-Brent Burns line, while Joe Pavelski took rushes as the third line center between Tommy Wingels and Martly Havlat.
McLellan offered some insight on the thought process regarding the role Pavelski will play. Pavelski finished as one of just three 40-goal scorers in the NHL this season while skating primarily on Thornton’s wing for the second half of the season, after Hertl went down with a knee injury.
“The debate isn’t a raging one in the coaches’ locker room. We feel equally comfortable going either way,” said the coach. “The wild card is Tomas, and making sure that he’s capable of handling minutes against the other team’s key players, and [Raffi Torres’] potential return to the lineup. A lot of that will dictate which way we’ll go.”
The versatile Pavelski indicated his position doesn’t much matter to him.
“I feel like a centerman most of the time, even when I’m on wing,” he said. “There’s a few things to do, but preparation doesn’t change that much.”
Regardless of how things look in Game 1, changes can and likely will be made at a moment’s notice. One bad game, period, or even a shift can result in a head coach altering his original plans.
“You win a few games, things usually stay the same. You lose a few, there’s always changes and adjustments to be made.” Pavelski said.
Pavelski has shown he can produce in either role, after he started the season playing between Wingels and Matt Nieto on a strong third line that showcased the Sharks’ depth. That depth took a hit, though, when Hertl was injured. The rookie returned for the final two games of the regular season and is expected in the lineup on Thursday.
While Hertl was out, the third line was a constant work in progress. Andrew Desjardins and John McCarthy took turns there at center early, before James Sheppard eventually claimed that spot after the Olympic break. Wingers were shuffled in and out, but the Sharks were mostly a two-line team for the second half of the season, relying on the Thornton and Logan Couture lines to put the puck in the net.
The Kings could present matchup problems if Pavelski is forced into a top line role. Los Angeles’ probable third line of Jarret Stoll, Dustin Brown and Tyler Toffoli is a better group on paper than Sheppard, Wingels and Havlat, should they be matched up against one another. For example, Stoll's faceoff percentage of 54.7 is much better than Sheppard's 45.1 percent. Pavelski's is a solid 56.0 percent.
Wingels was asked what it’s like to play with a center like Pavelski.
“I think Joe is one of the smartest players in the league. The way he plays and with his skill set, he reads and reacts to plays as well as anyone in the league. Obviously, as a winger, you benefit from that. Joe is always making the right play. So, as a winger, you want that out of your centerman.
“If Joe’s the guy in the middle on my line, great. If it’s [Sheppard], it’s great as well.”
The Sharks have their third straight practice on Wednesday to sort things out.
“We’ve got two of three days checked off,” McLellan said. “We had a plan heading in to the week. We’ve still got work to do, and then I believe we’ll be ready. We have to be ready.”
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Torres’ practice on Tuesday was a good one, according to McLellan.
“He looked really good out there today,” said the coach, who hadn’t had a chance to speak with Torres before addressing the media. “He looked fresh, and alert, and looked like he was Raffi, the way he’s supposed to look.”
“I think he’ll get better as we go along,” McLellan said. “Our measuring stick is the two games that he played at the end of the season, back-to-back with travel, in a different type of environment where they didn’t mean much to the teams that competed in them.
“In those situations we were rolling four lines, so minutes were a little more evenly distributed. Now, we’re going to enter the playoffs. The intensity goes up. Minutes aren’t necessary evenly distributed, and he has to be prepared for that.”