Sharks play­ers get mes­sage loud, clear af­ter coach jug­gling

Meier’s re­turn, big saves from Jones also spark team

The Mercury News Weekend - - SPORTS - By Paul Gackle [email protected] ba­yare­anews­group.com

SAN JOSE » Bren­den Dillon called the shakeup within the Sharks’ coach­ing staff a “kick in the butt” Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

More than any­thing, the move to put Steve Spott in charge of the de­fense, David Barr in con­trol of the for­wards and Rob Zet­tler as the eye in the sky, sent the team a mes­sage. A shuf­fle up in the coach’s of­fice is usu­ally the last card man­age­ment plays be­fore heads start rolling with a trade or a fir­ing. Things are get­ting ur­gent af­ter a 1-3-1 trip last week.

The kick in the butt worked Wed­nes­day night, pro­pel­ling the Sharks (1410- 5) in the right di­rec­tion as the team earned its se­cond straight win by beat­ing the Carolina Hur­ri­canes.

“Af­ter a road trip like that you’ve got to look in the mir­ror,” Justin Braun said. “You can’t look at other guys. You’ve got to fig­ure out what you’ve got to do to help the team win.”

Here’s what we learned in the Sharks 5-1 win over the Hur­ri­canes at SAP Cen­ter:

1. The Sharks lack the for­ward depth to ab­sorb a ma­jor in­jury up front.

The Sharks got a taste of just how pre­car­i­ous their for­ward depth is last week when they were forced to play three games without Timo Meier.

With Meier side­lined by an up­per-body in­jury, Kevin La­banc skated in his place on Lo­gan Cou­ture’s line and it took the punch out of the Sharks’ for­ward group. La­banc took two costly penal­ties against the Toronto Maple Leafs that led to goals and he looked lost in a 6-2 loss to the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors later in the week.

The in­jury also took La­banc off Joe Thorn­ton’s line, forc­ing a fourth-liner to move up and mi­nor lea­guer Lukas Radil to join the lineup.

The les­son learned here is that the Sharks re­ally can’t af­ford to lose a top for­ward be­cause it pro­duces a trickle down ef­fect im­pact­ing two or three lines at once.

With Meier in the lineup Wed­nes­day, ev­ery­thing fell back into place.

“It al­lows us to slot guys in,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “Our fourth line was very ef­fec­tive tonight and the rea­son for that is be­cause you can plug Timo in, and you can put three guys (on the fourth line) who know how to play.”

Meier skated with Thorn­ton and Mar­cus Sorensen, al­low­ing Joe Pavel­ski to stay with Cou­ture and To­mas Hertl, and for DeBoer to keep the trio of Evan­der Kane, Antti Suomela and Joonas Don­skoi in­tact. La­banc jumped onto the fourth line, in­ject­ing the bot­tom unit with a lot of high- end skill.

The Swiss for­ward seemed to pick up where he left off, scor­ing a goal and snag­ging a pair of as­sists.

He redi­rected Radim Simek’s shot at 8:42 of the se­cond, scor­ing his 14th goal to give the Sharks a 3-0 lead while the Czech de­fense­man earned his first NHL point. Meier also set up Pavel­ski’s team-lead­ing 18th goal at 15:02 of the se­cond and kicked the puck over to Sorensen on his garbage­time goal late in the third.

In less than a year, Meier has gone from be­ing a top prospect to some­one the Sharks rely on nightly.

“You try to be a dif­fer­ence-maker,” Meier said. “Ob­vi­ously, I’ve gained some con­fi­dence. I’ve learned a lot over the time I’ve spent here, so all I do is try to fo­cus on what I can do to help the team win.”

2. La­banc re­sponds to fourth line de­mo­tion.

The fourth line pro­duced one of its bet­ter games in re­cent mem­ory with La­banc skat­ing along­side Bar­clay Goodrow and Melker Karls­son.

La­banc set up Goodrow’s open­ing goal at 3:44 of the first and col­lected a se­cond ap­ple by put­ting the puck right on the tape of To­mas Hertl’s stick for an easy tapin on a Sharks power play later in the pe­riod.

“It just makes me want to play that much bet­ter,” La­banc said, ref­er­enc­ing his move to the fourth line. “You’re play­ing against the fourth line on the other team. They might be harder, heav­ier, what­ever, but they prob­a­bly don’t have as much skill, so there’s go­ing to be op­por­tu­nity out there.”

DeBoer was pleased with La­banc’s re­sponse to the fourth line de­mo­tion.

“He didn’t pout about it,” he said. “It’s an op­por­tu­nity for him to get some mis­matches and cre­ate some of­fense in the depth of our lineup. That’s ex­actly what he did.”

3. Mar­tin Jones gives the Sharks a con­fi­dence boost.

DeBoer de­scribed the fine line that the Sharks are try­ing to walk as the team looks to re­gain its con­fi­dence af­ter a nasty trip. As the Sharks con­tin­ued to sur­ren­der an un­healthy num­ber of odd-man rushes last week, they quit try­ing to make plays through the neu­tral zone, caus­ing the even- strength of­fense to dry up.

Af­ter the morn­ing skate Wed­nes­day, DeBoer sug­gested that timely saves would go a long way to­ward boost­ing con­fi­dence. Af­ter all, the Sharks ranked last in even-strength save per­cent­age (89.89 per­cent) head­ing into Wed­nes­day’s game.

“When you’re walk­ing that line and turn­ing it over but get­ting crit­i­cal saves, it doesn’t bother you as much,” DeBoer said.

Jones made those big saves Wed­nes­day, fol­low­ing up his 40-save per­for­mance in Mon­treal on Sun­day with a 39-save night against Carolina. In do­ing so, he be­came the first Shark since Ev­geni Nabokov in 2006 to record back-to-back 39-plus save per­for­mances.

JEFF CHIU — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sharks goalie Mar­tin Jones came up big for the se­cond con­sec­u­tive game with 39 saves in a win over Carolina.

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