Sharks dealing with stress of playoff race

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Sharks dealing with stress of playoff race

SAN JOSE The Sharks werent supposed to be in this position in the last week of March.

The fans know it. The players do, too. And so, of course, does head coach Todd McLellan, whose club is still in 10th place in the Western Conference with just eight games left to play.

Following two disappointing losses to Anaheim and Los Angeles to start the week, the coach sensed that the pressure of the playoff race might be weighing the team down. So, he had a clear message before the 2-1 win over the Bruins on Thursday.

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When youre in these situations and there is stress put on you, your body reacts in one of two ways. It shuts itself down and it hinders any type of elite performance, you feel sluggish, tired, your mind doesnt react the way it needs to react. Or, you accept the challenge and realize youre one piece of a big puzzle and you do your thing. Thats basically what I told the players before the game.

Well get it done with you, not because of you. That was it. I think the guys took a deep breath, and then they went and played. Thats all we can do. If we carry around all this baggage, its going to hinder our ability to play free and to perform.

According to Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the Sharks took the message to heart and it showed.

Ive never seen our team skate that much lately. The forwards were coming back, D were skating. Its the same thing, youve just got to play the game, play for fun and play free, he said.

Guys are here because they love to play hockey. Everybody is good at it, and yesterday we played free. We played hockey, we skated, and we did the things we can do. Guys made plays, nobody had tight sticks, nobody made bad plays. Thats what we were talking about. We have to play that way from now on.

The result was one of the more complete games in recent weeks, and the club resembled the version it iced in wins against Nashville and Detroit last week much more than the two ugly losses to the Ducks and Kings on Monday and Tuesday, when the team was seemingly starting to collapse under pressure.

You cant play cautious, especially this time of year, Dominic Moore said. Cautious is a recipe for playing on your heels. We need to just continue to play free, and with energy.

The challenge now is repeating it from here on out, as the games are only going to get more and more important. It begins on Saturday against the Coyotes, a club that is two points ahead of San Jose in seventh place in the West, and Colorado, which is ahead of the Sharks by one point, in eighth place.

Unlike the Sharks, the Coyotes and Avalanche werent among the organizations that many hockey pundits had as a Cup contender in their preseason prognostications. Consequently, the pressure of the playoff race is likely less of a burden on their shoulder pads when compared with the Sharks.

But the Sharks cant look at it that way.

Were looked at as the disappointing team because were in the battle, McLellan said. There are other teams that are very, very excited about being in this battle because of where they maybe should have been. The demeanor around those types of teams is different than the demeanor around ours, and we have to address the mental aspect of it, too.

We have to accept where we are right now. Thats where we are. Would we like to change it? Yes, but this is where we are, so now accept the challenge. We have to be excited about the opportunity to get there, too.

Joe Pavelski, who has a career-high 27 goals, hopes the team has turned a corner with the effort against the defending champs.

I hope so, as long as we keep moving forward with it. Every team is winning right now, Pavelski said. We have some big head-to-head matchups, and its not going to get any easier from here on out.

Moore said: Weve all played the game for a long time, and we just needed to tap into that energy.

Marleau back to the middle as Sharks deal with no Couture, Haley

Marleau back to the middle as Sharks deal with no Couture, Haley

SAN JOSE – All four of the Sharks’ lines have been in a blender for much of the season. 

Now, with Logan Couture out for at least one game and probably longer, and Micheal Haley getting tagged with a one-game suspension, the coaching staff has no choice but to mix and match the remaining forwards in time for Tuesday’s home game with the Rangers.

They’ll hope it’s the right recipe to snap out of what has been a miserable six-game losing streak in regulation, including the last two in which the Sharks have been outscored 13-3 by Dallas and Nashville.

The most notable player to be shifted is Patrick Marleau, who will apparently be centering the second line against New York. It will be just the fifth game he starts at center this season, and first since Feb. 11 in Philadelphia, when he was filling in for an ill Couture.

Marleau, of course, has played plenty of center over the years, including the second half of last season and first handful of playoff games when he was in the middle of the third line.

“I don’t think there’s been a year where I haven’t played center, so it’s just one of those things, move in and out,” Marleau said. “We’re interchangeable throughout the whole lineup, anyway.”

Marleau has been one of the few effective Sharks players lately, with three of the team’s last five goals. He has 26 goals on the season, third on the team, and is fifth on the Sharks in points with 44.

“Patty is playing great. I don’t think we could ask for more from him,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “Arguably a lot of nights this year he’s been our best forward. He’s playing hard, he’s playing strong. He’s been a real valuable piece for us. We wouldn’t be in the spot we’re in this year without him and the way he’s played this year.”

Marleau is set to skate with Melker Karlsson and Mikkel Boedker, as Karlsson is good to go after missing the last eight games with a lower body injury. The 26-year-old Swede is having a nice season with 19 points (9g, 10a) in 60 games.

The third line featured Tomas Hertl between Joel Ward and Marcus Sorensen, while Chris Tierney will center the fourth line with Timo Meier and Joonas Donskoi.

Karlsson, who confirmed he was ready to return, said: “Cooch is out, and we’ll see how long he’s going to be out, but I’ll do my best. I’m going to work hard, and hopefully can get going here.”

Marleau described Karlsson as “tenacious on the forecheck, causes a lot of turnovers. He’s hungry on that puck. He’s going to get his opportunities, and I’m sure he’ll put a few in the back of the net.”

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Of course, the Sharks don’t care who scores the goals, just as long as it’s someone. It’s been a season-long issue for them to get their depth scorers to do more, and if they want any chance at reclaiming first place in the Pacific Division while Couture is out, that will be a necessity.

Among the players that will bring their scoring woes into Tuesday’s game will be Donskoi (no points 13 games), Hertl (no points in 12 games), Boedker (no points in 10 games), Ward (no points in six games), Sorensen (one assist in 10 games) and Tierney (one goal in 12 games).

Could Couture’s absence be a wake up call for those guys?

“I would hope it doesn’t take an injury to get that. That’s something we’re looking for, it’s something we’ve challenged the group to get more out of them,” DeBoer said. 

“They’re the first guys to recognize they’ve got to give us a little bit more. That’s been an ongoing process. The good news is they’ve all done it before. I feel that they all have the ability to raise their level another notch here before the playoffs. I think they have enough character that we’ll see that.”

Time is growing short, as the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin in a little more than two weeks.

Marleau said: “When you go into playoffs, [secondary scoring] is usually what makes a difference. We need everybody contributing and guys stepping up at different times. We know that in this room, and guys are looking forward to doing that.”

Sharks' Haley suspended one game for punch on Jarnkrok

Sharks' Haley suspended one game for punch on Jarnkrok

SAN JOSE – Sharks forward Micheal Haley has been suspended one game for punching Nashville’s Calle Jarnkrok on Saturday in San Jose’s 7-2 loss, and will miss Tuesday's home game with the Rangers.

After absorbing a borderline hit from behind into the glass by Jarnkrok, Haley tracked down the Predators forward and promptly delivered a left jab to Jarnkrok’s face at 12:56 of the final frame. He received a match penalty for intent to injure on the play.

According to the video released by the league, Haley “was seeking retribution” for the hit by Jarnkrok, who was already being penalized for boarding, and delivered a “forceful punch on an opponent who was not able to defend himself at the time.”

The 30-year-old Haley, who has never been fined or suspended before in his career, gave his perspective of what happened on Monday.

“We were breaking out there and next thing I know I was face first in the glass,” Haley said. “Just emotions [took over]. Kind of scared from the hit and I just went after him. Looked at him right in the eyes. He saw me. By the time I swung at him his face might have turned a bit. When I went at him I saw him clearly look at me, and I thought he knew I was coming.”

Haley expected Jarnkrok to engage him after the Predators forward delivered the bad check.

“I thought it was a pretty dirty hit, and I thought I gave him ample amount of time. I think he [had] enough time to know what I was trying to do, and trying to get him to fight.”

He added: “In hindsight, I wish none of it happened. I wish I didn’t get hit and I wish I didn’t punch him, but it happened. I don’t think I started it. It wasn’t premeditated or anything. If I missed that punch then we probably don’t have this conversation.”

In 54 games this season, Haley has two goals and nine assists for 11 points. His 110 penalty minutes is fifth in the league.