Sharks open training camp in front of 'best fans in sports'
Todd McLellan has just a week to get his players up to speed before the Sharks' season starts in Calgary.
SAN JOSE – As far as Todd McLellan is concerned, he’s just one of 30 NHL head coaches that will be desperate for a fast start to the shortened season. Every game and point in the standings will be magnified in the 48-game campaign.
As a result, McLellan, whose 195-92-41 mark is the best regular season record over the last four years, has three goals that he’d like to see his group accomplish over the next seven days before the Sharks visit Calgary on Jan. 20.
“We have basically three goals in training camp,” McLellan said. “The most important one is bringing everybody up to game speed and getting that competitive environment again, so the players are used to working in tight spaces, banging and crashing, and playing in fatigued situations.
“Number two is refining and polishing up the systems that we have in place, and number three is introducing new ones. We’ll look at it in that order. If we do those things and accomplish those goals, I think it allows us to at least compete for a fast start.”
The first day of camp was more about numbers two and three on that list, and was more instructional than it was intense. The Sharks began the day skating in line rushes and working on breakouts. After an off-ice video session, the team returned to the ice and slowed things down in front of a sizeable crowd at Sharks Ice.
Penalty-killing strategy was at the forefront of that session, as McLellan, associate coach Larry Robinson and assistant coach Jim Johnson each took turns addressing the group and walking the players through the strategy.
Fixing the penalty kill, which was the team’s biggest weakness in 2011-12, is paramount. The Sharks finished 29th in the regular season with just a 76.9 percent rate, and that fell to just 66.7 percent in the five-game playoff loss to St. Louis in the first round.
“On the penalty kill, that’s an issue we want to address,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. “Those two guys (Robinson and Johnson) are working on it. Having two new fresh faces will be nice to have. Larry is one of the greatest defensemen ever, and I didn’t have a chance to watch him [play], but he brings a lot of experience. He did today, and it should be good for our d-corps.”
Robinson and Johnson were added over the offseason while assistant coach Matt Shaw was fired.
Dan Boyle said: “Sometimes it just needs to come from a different voice. It’s mainly the same ideas, but sometimes there’s a key word here or there that we’re not used to. It’s always good to get fresh ideas. I guess they put in the work this summer by watching a lot of video, and they’ll give us their thoughts on what they think we can improve on.”
The intensity will ratchet up throughout the next seven days, and scrimmaging will be a big part of that. There are no exhibition games, so the players will have to go as hard as they possibly can against each other without endangering their fellow teammates.
That could be tricky.
“As a group, you have to realize that you have to compete against each other,” Brad Stuart said. “Nobody’s out there to hurt anyone, but you want to make it tough on the other guys, and you want them to do the same, because when the puck drops for real you want to be ready.
“It’s only this group in here that can help you prepare. Nobody’s going to be out there to hurt anyone, but you definitely do want to bring that compete level and take it up a notch, because you’ve got to be ready.”
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The line combinations were familiar on day one, as McLellan opted for familiarity over experimentation. The top two lines featured Joe Thornton centering Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau, and Logan Couture between Ryane Clowe and Marty Havlat (the rest of the combinations and defense pairs can be found in this post from early on Sunday).
If San Jose has one advantage over many NHL clubs, it’s that only Stuart and grinding forward Adam Burish need to integrate themselves into the lineup.
“We’d like to see some new combinations, or we’d like to try some, but right now we’re going to go with familiar faces,” McLellan said. “The understanding of how each player reacts in a certain situation allows them to maybe play faster and quicker. We’re going to go that route to start. I don’t know if it will stay that way, but we’re certainly going to try.”
Pavelski isn’t taking anything for granted.
“You’ve got to perform and you’ve got to be ready and play. It’s not just going to happen,” he said. “You’ve got to put the work in and handle the pace, talk, communicate, and make the plays.”
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The Sharks have 28 players in camp, so there will be some internal competition for a few remaining roster spots. Eight players who have spent the year in Worcester are now in San Jose, and have the advantage of being in game shape. Many players on the Sharks’ roster have seen little if any game action during the nearly four-month lockout.
McLellan welcomes that competition, but also the get-up-and-go attitude that the Worcester players bring to camp.
“We can have a maximum of 23 [players], so 23 [spots] are up for grabs,” McLellan said. “I know that’s not a realistic comment, but we have to find 23 players that can compete on day one. We’ll worry about day two when we get to it.
“I thought the group that came from Worcester looked very good today. They are at game speed, they played a lot, they looked fresh and they looked excited about being here. That can bring up the energy level as well. We’ll see as the week goes on who’s fitting in and accomplishing what we thought they could, and make some decisions as the week wears on.”
There could be at least one newcomer on the blue line against Calgary, as Brent Burns (groin) and Jason Demers (fractured right wrist) did not skate on Sunday and should be considered questionable for the opener. It’s thought that Matt Irwin and Matt Tennyson have the inside track to nail down that potential spot, although former first round pick Nick Petrecki and Matt Pelech are also here from the club’s AHL affiliate.
Demers told reporters he’s going to skate on his own on Monday, and did not rule himself out for the opener. Braun is now out of the cast that he had been wearing for the past five weeks, although he only took part in the first half of the Sharks’ skate on Sunday.
There was no immediate update on Burns, who had offseason sports hernia/groin surgery.