CHICAGO – It’s a rare occurrence this season for the San Jose Sharks, or any team in the league, to have consecutive practice days with no games on the calendar. That’s one of the consequences of a shortened, condensed season.
The Sharks have 33 games left in just 66 days, so will essentially be playing every other day for the next two-plus months. As their schedule stands now, taking into account scheduled off-days, there will be just one more chance to practice twice between games, on April 19 and 20.
On Wednesday and Thursday in Chicago, though, the Sharks held back-to-back practices, each lasting about an hour. Their energy was high, the pace was fast, and there were some smiles on the faces of players that ended a seven-game losing streak on Tuesday in St. Louis.
What did they accomplish, as they get set to face the powerful Blackhawks again on Friday night?
“We’ve addressed areas of the game that we think need addressing,” Todd McLellan said after Thursday’s practice at Johnny’s Ice House, which is a short distance from the United Center. “[We] worked on everything from offensive creativity, to defending, to power play and penalty kill. Tried to cover all our bases. We know that practice time is at a premium, and we have to spend it wisely and be efficient with it. I thought we had two pretty good workouts."
Joe Thornton said: “We worked hard these last two days, and worked on just little things like passing, and things like that. It’s nice to work on some foundation stuff this time.”
Getting the puck up the ice quickly has been a weakness lately. When the Sharks fail to execute simple tape-to-tape passes, which happened far too often during their 0-4-3 skid, they look decidedly slow. Thornton has been among the players struggling in that regard, although he and the Sharks’ top line was much more effective against the Blues in a 2-1 win. Thornton scored the Sharks’ first goal, but still has just two points in the last nine games.
“That’s where you get half your speed from, is your passing,” Thornton said. “If your passing is sharp, you seem a lot faster. That’s where we get our team speed from, is good passing leads to good offense. It was lacking there for a little bit.”
The dearth of offense is also still troubling, despite the recent win. Two stats stand out, and they’ve been mentioned here numerous times – the Sharks have scored two goals or less in regulation in nine of their last 10 games, and the power play is just 2-for-42 in the last 10 games.
“The frustrating thing about the losing streak was the lack of offense. We ended the losing streak the other day with a good team game, but we still only produced two goals,” McLellan said. “We can talk about this for the thousandth time – until the power play gets going like it did earlier in the year, and those players perform in that situation like they’re capable of, we’re going to not score as many goals as we need. It’s as simple as that.”
The head coach is hoping the rare abundance of practice time will help to remedy that.
“Hopefully we’re building, and going the right way,” he said.
Lines stay the same
The Sharks’ forward lines were as follows on Thursday:
Patrick Marleau – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe – Logan Couture – Marty Havlat
Tim Kennedy – Michal Handzus – Tommy Wingels
TJ Galiardi – Adam Burish – Andrew Desjardins
Should McLellan keep those lines for the game against the Blackhawks, and there’s no reason to think he won't, that means a healthy Scott Gomez is still the odd man out.
Galiardi has sat for four of the last seven games, but with Matt Pelech’s reassignment to Worcester, it looks like he’ll get back in.
On the Hawks
Chicago will try and set the record for the best start in NHL history on Friday night (5 p.m., CSN California). They have yet to lose in regulation (13-0-3).
The Sharks would love to be the team to put an end to that run of brilliance.
“Sure, it would be nice," Thornton said. "They’ve been playing real good right now, and everybody knows that they’re going for the record for the start of the season. It would be nice to break that up.”
McLellan said: “Somebody’s got to stop them eventually. We’re the next team on the list, so let’s do it.”
The Blackhawks are 2-0 against the Sharks, with a 5-3 win at HP Pavilion on Feb. 5 and a 4-1 win last Friday in Chicago.