Sharks set to hammer down for shortened 48-game season

January 16, 2013, 2:45 pm
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SAN JOSE – No exhibition games will be played in preparation for the 48-game NHL season, which starts on Saturday for most teams and Sunday for the Sharks in Calgary.

It’s up to the coaching staff and the players themselves to get as game-shape as possible, while at the same time trying to avoid injuries that might occur due to a long layoff and the accelerated camp schedule.

On Wednesday at Sharks Ice, the team broke up into white and teal squads complete with official game jerseys, with 14 players per side. A pair of scrimmages ensued, and the competition and pace was noticeably higher than what had been seen since camp opened on Sunday.

“I think it was great. We’ve got to cover everything in one week, and today was fun to be able to scrimmage,” Marty Havlat said. “That’s what we’re going to start on Sunday, so it was a good day.”

Brad Stuart said: “It’s obviously something we need. I’ve said it before, the only people that can get us ready are the guys in this room. We’ve got to help each other. I think a situation like today was what we needed.”

The scrimmage also presented an opportunity for the coaching staff to get a bird’s eye view, as head coach Todd McLellan and associate coach Larry Robinson watched from a perch above. (Assistant coaches Jim Johnson and Jay Woodcroft acted as linesmen/referees, while asst. GM Wayne Thomas and development coach Mike Ricci were behind the benches). The scrimmages were videotaped, too, and the coaches will review the tape before the team reconvenes on Thursday morning.

“The coaches sat before this morning and we said, it’s been really hard to evaluate where players are,” McLellan said. “We’ve been so attentive to the drills and teaching and organizing and all that type of stuff, to actually step back and watch them play, and catch them doing things correct in a scrimmage environment, today was a good test for that.”

McLellan and staff appear to be sticking with the current line combinations among players that are expected to make the opening night roster. On the white team, Joe Thornton’s line with Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski teamed up with the Michael Handzus-Tommy Wingels-TJ Galiardi trio. Dan Boyle and Matt Irwin were paired on defense, with Antti Niemi in goal.

On team teal, Logan Couture was with familiar linemates Havlat and Ryane Clowe, while Andrew Desjardins centered Adam Burish and Bracken Kearns/Frazer McLaren. Thomas Greiss manned the crease for that squad, behind defense pairs Douglas Murray/Justin Braun and Stuart/Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

It’s been mentioned in this space more than once that the Sharks should have an advantage over many other teams out of the gate in that they had 11 players playing overseas during the lockout. At the same time, some key contributors like Marleau, Boyle and Stuart decided to wait out the work stoppage and stayed local, routinely skating at Sharks Ice.

How difficult has the challenge been for them to get up to game speed?

“It hasn’t been as bad as I thought it was going to be,” Marleau said. “But, I think game situations, just that split second reaction time – jumping into holes, or taking a man in the defensive zone, is going to be the biggest thing. You’re going to have to be sharp right away, or else it will be noticeable for everybody.”

Stuart said: “Every day we’re trying to get better. You hope the guys in this room are making it hard on you, so when you get in to the real deal, you’re prepared. So far, so good. Every day you feel a little bit more comfortable, and you’re getting yourself up to speed.”

According to McLellan, the Sharks will go back to a regular practice routine tomorrow, but could use one of the remaining days of camp for more scrimmaging.

“Back to work tomorrow, and we may try this one more time before Sunday arrives,” McLellan said.

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The one position that appears to be in flux among the Sharks’ forwards is that of fourth line left wing, alongside Desjardins and Burish. McLaren, Kearns and James Sheppard have all made appearances in that place at some point during camp.

There’s even a chance that all three of those players make the opening night roster and could be rotated in for games.

“There will be extra bodies here. We won’t be carrying 20 players,” McLellan said. “We’ll have some ingredients that might not be involved on a certain night that we can draw on the next night. Sometimes that’s dictated by your opponent.”

McLellan said he’d like to see Burish and Desjardins find some chemistry together, and then “add some pieces as we go.”

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