Sharks players get message loud, clear after coach juggling
Meier’s return, big saves from Jones also spark team
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.
Sharks goalie Martin Jones came up big for the second consecutive game with 39 saves in a win over Carolina.