Sharks mailbag: Time to rest key guys?

Sharks mailbag: Time to rest key guys?
March 31, 2014, 10:00 am
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Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau could probably use some rest, but the Sharks will need them to win a race with the Ducks for the Pacific Division title. (AP)

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A Monday morning Sharks mailbag, with less than two weeks to go in the regular season…

Is Sheppard a legitimate third line center? Or is he just playing good right now and it won't last? (Ryan Wargala @RyanWargala)

Someone recently remarked to me that it’s like the Sharks got a whole new player in James Sheppard after the trade deadline, and that’s probably the best way to put it. Sheppard is certainly making the most of his opportunity and is playing his best hockey since joining the Sharks. I’m not yet ready to say that he is a viable replacement for Joe Pavelski as the third line center, but Todd McLellan said again recently that he likes Sheppard much better in the middle than on the wing, so I don’t see him altering his lines just yet. 

Of course, the thinking can change quickly in a playoff series after just one loss or even an ugly win. If the Sharks play the Kings, which is looking more and more likely now, a third line of Pavelski, Raffi Torres and Tommy Wingels would probably be best suited to play against Los Angeles’ third line of Jarret Stoll, Dustin Brown and Dwight King.

[KURZ: Instant Replay: Sharks fall to Avalanche 3-2]

Is LA in the first round a worst-case scenario? I think over 7 games it's anyone's series. (Nathaniel @nattylite29)

No argument from me that it would be anyone’s series, and I think it would go six or seven very hard fought and entertaining games. The fear is that playing Los Angeles would be a heavy series, and take a physical toll for a potential second round matchup with Anaheim. Just look at what happened to the Kings last season in the Western Conference Final – they lost to Chicago in five games, and several key players like Justin Williams, Drew Doughty and Dustin Brown were all playing through injuries that were no doubt partly a result of that long series with San Jose.

Does [Todd McLellan] have any plans to rest [his key players] down the stretch? Scratch or limiting minutes? (@Pavs8_USA)

I was actually thinking about this the other day – the Kings are locked into the third seed in the division, and know they will play either the Sharks or the Ducks. They can probably start resting their key guys now if they wanted to, including their numerous players that went to the Olympics.

The Sharks and Ducks won’t have that luxury as long as they continue to battle for the Pacific Division. If Anaheim wins its games in hand, would the Sharks be better served to throw in the towel on the Pacific Division and rest their veteran guys for the first round matchup with the Kings? That’s a question they may have to answer in the next week or so, depending on how things go.

Are the recent defensive mistakes from fatigue or system breakdowns (cheating)? Or both? (Justin Pearce @00Pearce)

Probably a little of both. You simply can’t ignore the fatigue factor, though, even though no one in the dressing room would ever use it as an excuse. The Sharks just finished a stretch of playing 17 games in 31 days, with just a single two-day break on March 9-10. They will get some valuable practice time in at home this week, and enjoy a three-day break between games on April 5 at home and in Anaheim on April 9. They look like they could use some polishing up in a few areas, especially the penalty kill.

With [2013 first round pick Mirco] Mueller now in Worcester, chances of his call up and playing in NHL this season? (GJ Berg @LadyStanley)

I can’t envision a situation where Mueller would play an NHL game unless the team encounters some serious injury problems in the playoffs. Matt Tennyson and Taylor Doherty would get into a game before Mueller.

It will be interesting to see if the team keeps him around as part of its taxi squad for the playoffs, though. In the past, I’ve seen teams keep some of their top prospects around for the playoffs just to give them a taste of what NHL life is like. If Mueller is in San Jose in two weeks, that would be a very strong indication that the organization is high on the 18th overall pick from a year ago.