Sharks still seeking more offensive balance

McLellan: Sharks 'had the will to keep fighting'

Sharks still seeking more offensive balance
December 28, 2013, 2:30 pm
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No player on the Sharks' bottom two lines from a game ago has scored since Dec. 3. (USATSI)

SAN JOSE -- Over the past three games, all shootout wins, the Sharks have been able to find success with a top-heavy offense. First liners Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, and Joe Thornton have led the attack during the winning streak, generating five out of six of the club’s even strength goals over that span.

Two straight games on the horizon against the Anaheim Ducks, though, will probably prove to be more difficult than the matchups with Dallas, Colorado and Phoenix. The Ducks have won nine in a row going into their home game with the Coyotes on Saturday night, and lead the NHL with a .756 winning percentage.

Perhaps that’s why Sharks coach Todd McLellan had a new look to three of his four scoring lines for Saturday’s practice. Matt Nieto was bumped up to the wing of Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau, while the third line consisted of Tyler Kennedy between Tommy Wingels and James Sheppard. The fourth liners were Andrew Desjardins, John McCarthy and Mike Brown, while Bracken Kearns was on his way from Worcester to take the roster spot of an injured Marty Havlat, who will miss his third straight game on Sunday.

[RELATED: Havlat out with lower body injury]

Nieto’s apparent promotion was the most notable of the changes. The rookie speedster is scoreless in his last 13 games, broken up by a couple of stints in the minors, and was part of a line with McCarthy and Kennedy that struggled on Friday in Phoenix and was benched for most of the third period. He hasn't been very effective since early in the season, but he hasn't played with two guys like the skilled Couture and Marleau, either.

“Maybe he’s better fit for that spot. I don’t know. We’re trying whatever we can,” Todd McLellan said.

Nieto said: “If I am [on that line], obviously I’ll try to make the most of it. It’s a good opportunity for myself. I’ll work hard, and try to support those guys.”

On Friday, Nieto’s turnover led to the first of David Moss’ two goals, staking the Coyotes a 1-0 first period lead. That line also witnessed Moss’ second goal, on a re-direction in the second.

Fortunately for San Jose, Pavelski and Burns scored even-strength markers, to go along with Marleau’s power play goal. Couture’s line, with Marleau and Wingels, also played relatively well even-strength.

“I thought we played two lines that played a very energetic, offensive game. We had one that struggled and was on the ice for a number of the goals, and the fourth line that did a pretty admirable job,” McLellan said of Friday’s performance.

Among the Sharks players that played on the bottom two lines against Phoenix, you have to go all the way back to Dec. 3 for the last time any of them scored a goal. It came from Mike Brown in a win over the Maple Leafs.

With Havlat and Tomas Hertl out, McLellan is prepared to continue juggling things until he finds the right mix. For now, that also means keeping Pavelski in the top six, rather than in his preferred role as third line center.

It’s not ideal. But, it’s worked of late, as Pavelski has seven goals in his last eight games.

“I really like our club when we’re three deep down the middle. I think that’s obvious. … That’s the best-case scenario for us when everybody’s healthy,” McLellan said. “But, when you have four regular forwards that are out of your lineup, like we do right now, you have to make do with what you have. We’re trying to find ways to win games one at a time, night after night.”

Sheppard said: “Top six are very important, but it’s a whole team. Every chain coming together, every piece of the puzzle coming together is going to make us win. We want to make sure there are all 20 guys showing up every night.”