SAN JOSE -- Two weeks ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared headed for an early vacation for the first time since 2003, the last time they missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
After winning their first seven games, the Sharks went 5-10-6 with just two regulation wins and only 36 goals in those 21 contests. A 5-3 road loss on March 18 to the Anaheim Ducks dropped San Jose to 12-10-6.
There was more talk about Sharks coach Todd McLellan's job security than potential playoff matchups. But just when the Sharks appeared ready to be buried, they rose up and won five of their past six games.
The Sharks will take a four-game winning streak into Monday's game against the Vancouver Canucks at HP Pavilion. With a 17-11-6 record and 40 points, the Sharks own sixth place in the Western Conference race.
"We’re playing like a team," McLellan said after a 2-0 win Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings. "Each line is contributing. We’ve come to a little bit of an agreement. I don’t know if we’ve actually talked about it, but guys have come to the conclusion that we need to play a certain way to be successful. Each of the lines are doing that. The D-men are doing what they’re supposed to do."
During their long skid, the Sharks often looked slow and tentative on the ice, the exact opposite of what McLellan, a former Red Wings assistant, has preached since arriving in San Jose in 2008. McLellan wants the Sharks to play with speed, energy and relentlessness. He wants his defensemen involved on offense. To him, the only bad shot is the one not taken.
"Obviously we have a system in place, and everybody needs to be playing that system," Marleau said. "But I think the biggest part is making sure everybody's doing it hard and fast. You can play a system, but if one piece is missing, everything kind of crumbles down. I think we have a little bit more trust in each other with these last few games, and we have to build off that."
Of course, the Sharks turnaround has involved more than just playing harder and faster. A series of spot-on lineup and personnel moves helped get them untracked.
Four games ago, McLellan moved top-six wing Joe Pavelski to third-line center. Pavelski has scored a goal in four straight games since the switch, matching his career high and providing some much-needed scoring outside of the top two lines.
"Guys are playing good," Pavelski said, downplaying his role. "We've been quick. We've got a little more speed going."
Sharks captain Joe Thornton, who centers the top line, said all four lines have been playing "really, really well" during the surge.
"I think that's going to be the key for us, a balanced attack,” he said. “It's been good so far."
Another move by McLellan helped spark the turnaround. When the Sharks played a road game against the St. Louis Blues on March 12, he moved defenseman Brent Burns to forward, the position he was drafted at by the Minnesota Wild in 2003.
Midway through that game, Burns moved to the top line with Thornton, adding size, aggressiveness and a rifle shot to the mix. Burns scored five goals and had 10 points nine games as a wing before having to fill in for injured defenseman Jason Demers on Saturday against the Phoenix Coyotes.
"I think we might have been lacking a little bit of scoring up front," Thornton said. "I think when Burnsie came up, it definitely gave us another forward capable of scoring and kind of turned the tides for us. Good thing Burnsie can play both positions."
Before playing defense against the Coyotes, Burns scored a goal in three straight games as a forward in two victories against Anaheim and Detroit.
"I think a lot of it is the linemates," Burns said, crediting Thornton and Martin Havlat. "They’re both playing well. They’re both so smart. A lot of times, I’m just running around trying to cause chaos and those two are making great plays."
The Sharks have been younger and faster on defense since trading stay-at-home blueliner Douglas Murray to the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 25 for a second-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft and a conditional second-round choice in 2014. Making veteran center Michal Handzus a healthy scratch the past six games has also helped make the overall lineup faster.
McLellan said the Murray trade -- and the approaching trade deadline -- likely served as duel wakeup calls for his players.
"As we move forward, I think everybody wants to keep the team together and everybody wants to remain a Shark," McLellan said. "Maybe they're trying to show us that right now."
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