Back in October when the Sharks struggled to find their game at the start to their season, I actually welcomed the idea that the team will not run the table for another year and may have to battle hard to earn a good seed in the playoffs. But once the HTML line was put together, the team started putting one winning streak after another. Before we knew it, the Sharks were once again at the top of the Western Conference schedule with a comfortable position going into March-April.
In this position, the points now start to matter less and at times we see the players put questionable effort on the ice. To battle this, we are starting to see these kinds of ideas coming out of McLellan's mouth as team is starting 6-game road trip:
"We’ll be able to play some people in different situations than we have been. You might see the big guys back together some night, you might see some lines that are different just in case we need it later on."
We sure saw plenty of that tonight. On one shift we saw HTML line together. On another Thornton was skating next to McGinn and Setoguchi (which is how the first goal was scored). Then all of a sudden we saw Heatley skating next to Clowe and Mitchell and on and on this chess game went.Before we discuss how it worked out , we should mention why McLellan was shuffling his forwards this way - the team was once again half asleep, especially for the first 40 minutes of the game. The first period was especially disturbing, as the lack of effort and focus cost the Sharks three unanswered goals. Not much have changed in the second period either, so the coaches had no other choice but to try to jump start the team by consantly rotating forward combinations.
Did it work? Looking at the scoreboard, we can see that it did not.
Some forwards who are usually dangerous looked lost playing next to unfamiliar forwards (such as Heatley, who was the worst of them all tonight finishing the night with zero points and -3 rating) , while others were invisible (such as Malhotra, who did not manage to get a single shot on the net, or Marleau who only had one shot in almost 22 minutes of play).
Thanks to the magic of this season happening in the Olympic year, Sharks will play nine more games in the next 15 days, giving the coaches plenty of time to wake this team up or at least settle on the lines that work for more than a few shifts a game.
But shuffling the lines may not be the only solution the Sharks are looking for, as the the struggle to put a good three periods of hockey in one game continues.