EL SEGUNDO – Sharks head coach Todd McLellan had a decision to make in late March, when some of his team’s veteran leaders came to him with the message that they were, quite simply, worn out.
A 48-game season in which they were essentially playing every other night, the Sharks were on the outside looking in on a playoff spot on the morning of March 25. They beat the Anaheim Ducks that night, 5-3, to climb back into position after losing seven of their previous nine. After the game, a meeting took place between some of the team’s leaders and its coach.
Captain Joe Thornton explained.
“We just weren’t playing well, and with the condensed season and all the travel, guys just looked a little bit tired,” he said. “We were just like, ‘if you could, give us some time off.’ We didn’t realize he was going to give us this much time off, but it’s been working. The guys just look fresh, they really enjoy coming to the rink, and when they come they know it’s going to be a workday. It’s been really effective.”
McLellan had two options after speaking with Thornton and some others.
“We could ignore them and keep skating them, or we could listen to them and try and get them the rest they needed. We tried to rest them a little bit more, and we found with that, and the [roster] changes we made, our team was energized a little bit.”
Since March 25, the Sharks coaching staff has opted not to skate its regulars the day after a game. The result has been a 12-4-1 mark in the last 17 games, and a ninth straight playoff appearance that was clinched earlier this week.
It’s also a tangible result of the trust between the coaching staff and the veteran core that the Sharks still heavily rely upon.
“I think part of coaching is creating those relationships, so that players can come to you and be open and honest,” McLellan said. “The group that came was the leadership group, and they were very open and honest. We had a great talk that night.
“In turn, we have to make some judgment calls. Do they need it? Are they just looking for a day or two off? Sometimes that happens in a long season. We felt they were sincere, and we gave them every opportunity to show us that making that decision would be the right thing.”
The biggest question before the 48-game season began, for the Sharks and every other team in the league, was how would a condensed schedule and the lack of training camp and exhibition games affect them?
Now that 47 of those 48 games have been played, some Sharks reflected upon that on Friday after skating at the Kings’ practice facility for about 45 minutes.
The biggest single advantage came early, according to Brad Stuart.
“It’s been beneficial for us in the respect that there are a lot of veteran guys in here, and I think we knew how to get prepared from the start, as opposed to working our way into it,” he said. “You see how close everything is, and think, if we didn’t start the way we did, where might we be?”
Dan Boyle said: “It’s been a grind, every two nights. It’s been tough. As far as how it affected us, obviously we got off to a great start, which a lot of teams were worried about.”
The Sharks began the season with seven straight victories before hitting the skids. From Jan. 29 to March 23, San Jose collected just three regulation wins, going 8-11-6 overall. That’s when the meeting with the head coach to plea for more off time came from the leaders.
Stuart said: “It’s tough to say how much of an effect it had on our record, but from a personal standpoint, you feel better about coming to the rink when you feel fresh. When you’re tired, you start to get tired mentally, as well, and then you’re just not sharp.
“Those days off are important, because you just come to the rink and feel fresh physically and mentally, and you’re ready to go. I think that could have been an important thing for us putting wins together.”