Thursday, April 19, 2012
Sharks-Blues reaches tipping point
By Pierre LeBrun
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The possibility of a 3-1 series deficit speaks for itself as to the motivation for the San Jose Sharks in Game 4 on Thursday night.
The Blues-Sharks first-round series has reached its first critical moment.
"We've got to win," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said Thursday morning after his team’s optional skate. "We’re down 2-1, and we need to win this home game. That’s the bottom line."
"It’s a big game, for sure," Sharks winger Martin Havlat added. "We just want to be better than we were the other night. I don’t think we played the way we wanted to."
The Blues, on the other hand, want to avoid making this a lengthy travel series, given the two time zones it involves.
"This is a huge game," said Blues center Scott Nichol, who knows all too well what his former team in San Jose is capable of. "We know it. We’ve addressed it. By far we’re not satisfied of where we’re at. We played well last game but we can be better."
The Sharks scored two goals late in Game 3 to make it closer at 4-3, which Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock was able to use as a tool over the last few days.
"It got their attention, it grounded us for the last two days," Hitchcock said Thursday morning after his team’s optional skate. "I think it’s one of the reasons why we had such a good practice yesterday. We were very good at practice yesterday and very focused. I think just the scare, especially for such a young team, is a great lesson in completing the task."
Marleau at Center
The Sharks had an optional skate Thursday morning, so with not all players on hand, it wasn’t clear if Wednesday’s new forward lines were still a go.
"Potentially," Sharks head coach Todd McLellan responded when asked if those line and lineup changes were a go. "We’ve got some options that we can use as far as injecting new people into the lineup (Brad Winchester, Michal Handzus), as well as shuffling lines around a little bit. We’re looking for a little more offensive zone sustained time in five-on-five situations, (and) a little more finish when we do get some opportunities. We’ll need that if we’re going to have any success."
It’s the playoffs, so the coach sometimes doesn’t want to tip his hand on lineup changes. Or perhaps McLellan wanted a bit more time to think about it before puck drop Thursday night.
But if Wednesday’s practice lines hold true, Patrick Marleau will go from first-line winger to second-line center. He’s flip-flopped from wing to center for a number of years now, so he’s fine with it.
"It probably started about five years ago, when I moved to wing," Marleau said Thursday morning. "It’s pretty frequent, in and out."
At center, Marleau feels he can stretch his legs a bit more and use his speed.
"You’re moving a lot more, I think, as opposed to standing on the boards," said Marleau. "I like it that way. You definitely feel like you’re in the playoff the whole time."
If these changes hold, it will see Logan Couture move up with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, which presents a different challenge for the Blues.
"I think what gets your attention is when they load up a line," said Hitchcock. "When they load up a line, there’s risk on both sides. The risk is for them, can that line do the job and can everybody else cover up and take of business underneath that? The risk for us, is can we defend that line and not let them do that job. For me, it’s like putting Zetterberg and Datsyuk together. You think it looks good because there’s only one line to check but then they just dominate the game so much, you think it’s a real bad idea. So, I don’t know how this is going to work and if he’s going to stay with it, but it’s got our attention."