San Jose Sharks (42-12-10) at Minnesota Wild (32-28-5)
5 PM PST
(You get a gold star if you know what song I'm referencing in the subject post.)
Ok, so we're officially in a slump. Drew Remenda thinks it's time for the locker room to "take ownership of the season." Todd McLellan thinks that he might have burnt out a few guys while trying to compensate for injuries. Me? I think they're both right to some respect.
You may have noticed that Patrick Marleau's struggled a bit in the past two weeks or so. So has Joe Thornton. I don't think it's a coincidence that whenever injuries hit in the day of a game or during a game (or in the case of Joe Pavelski, a freakish and non-deserved match penalty), those two guys wind up playing in every conceivable situation. I distinctly recall looking at the ice time during the Dallas game a week back and noting that Marleau was by far the leader in ice time, even above Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Marleau literally swapped between every line, then played power play and penalty kill.
There's a difference, I think, in giving a guy 22 minutes a night when you're essentially rolling four lines and the guy is doing a few double-shifts and playing special teams versus playing 24 or 25 minutes out of sheer necessity because your resources are dwindling. That's my validation of McLellan's argument, and I'm glad that he's finally experimenting with reuniting Thornton/Cheechoo tonight while going Marleau/Setoguchi.
At the same time, if elite players like Thornton and Marleau know they've got to pick up the slack for their injured teammates, they've got to compensate by simplifying their game and sticking with McLellan's strategy. This is where Remenda's ownership-of-the-season issue comes in. Everyone knows that trying to do everything by yourself, whether it's insane passes across through five guys or trying to stickhandle through an entire team, generally ends in noble failure. If you're going to be extending your game while people recover, it's best to keep things simple -- chip it in with speed, take shots, and let things unfold naturally rather than trying to force it.
I do think this is a good process to work through and the team should come out of it stronger. As the great Stephen Patrick Morrissey once said, that's how people grow up, and I think if the Sharks pull off a strong playoff run, they'll hopefully point to this as one of the pieces to the puzzle.
As for tonight, more injuries as Rob Blake is out and Evgeni Nabokov remains out. The rest of the injured crew remains the same. The good news, if you haven't heard, is that Torrey Mitchell is skating and Marcel Goc is traveling with the team on the road trip. The key to success tonight? Play back to basics -- move your feet through the neutral zone, take shots whenever you can, forecheck hard on the dump ins, and crash the net.
Prediction: Sharks 2, Wild 1. Goals by Marleau and Cheechoo.