SAN JOSE – The San Jose Sharks will likely have two new players in their lineup – both of them ex-Blues – and different combinations on their top two lines Thursday night for Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals series against St. Louis.
BLUES VS. SHARKS
Blues hold off Sharks 4-3 in Game 3
By Eric Gilmore - NHL.com Correspondent
The Blues scored three power-play goals and withstood a late rally by San Jose to post a 4-3 win and take a 2-1 series edge. READ MORE ›
Forward Brad Winchester replaced TJ Galiardi on the fourth line and skated with center Andrew Desjardins and Tommy Wingels during practice Wednesday. Michal Handzus replaced Dominic Moore and centered the third line, flanked by Daniel Winnik and Torrey Mitchell.
Patrick Marleau, meanwhile, moved from top line wing to second line center. Logan Couture switched from second line center to first line wing, flanking Joe Thornton.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan said those changes aren't set in stone, but after his team lost 4-3 Monday night in Game 3 to fall behind 2-1 in the series, he said changes were likely. And after practice Wednesday, he talked about the potential benefits of juggling lineups and lines.
"You put some fresh people in the lineup that I'm sure are hungry if we go about doing that, that want to stay in the lineup, which should give you an emotional and a physical jump," McLellan said. "It's also the coach sending a signal to maybe some guys that he's not happy with their game. And that includes shuffling the lines a little bit. Maybe there's some combinations that aren't working. It puts everybody a little bit on notice that we can be better."
The Sharks have yet to get a goal from Marleau, Thornton or first-line wing Joe Pavelski. Couture scored his first goal of the series late in the third period Monday when he was on the ice with Thornton, who fed him a nice pass in the slot.
"We're struggling to score goals," Couture said. "We finished strong last game with a couple, and hopefully this change helps us get a couple more.
"I get a chance to play with Jumbo and Pav, two good players. It's different than being in the middle, but I enjoy it. I like playing along the boards. You play a lot along the boards as a winger, so looking forward to it."
During long stretches earlier in the season, Marleau centered the second line. Center is his natural position, and playing that spot allows him to take fuller advantage of is exceptional speed.
"Obviously, there's benefits to both," Marleau said. "You're able to keep moving as a centerman and keep your speed that way as opposed to being stopped on the boards sometimes. Try to use that to our advantage."
Handzus and Winchester were healthy scratches for the first three games of the series. They'll add size and experience to the Sharks' lineup. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Handzus made his NHL debut for St. Louis during the 1988-89 season and played 183 regular-season games over three campaigns for the Blues. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Winchester played 185 games for the Blues over parts of the past three seasons.
"I'm very excited," Handzus said. "It's the best time of the year. I want to play every game. It's going to be fun. I've got to play my game. Be strong on the puck. I think that's what I like to bring to the game -- be strong on the puck. Win puck battles and play a good two-way game."
Winchester has a reputation for playing physical, hard-nosed hockey.
"I'm just going to play my style of game," Winchester said. "It's a tight, hard-fought series. They play a style that is conducive to not allowing teams a lot of room. It's important to get into the forecheck, be around the net, create some space to play."
Word of the Sharks' probable changes had spread to the Blues by the time they took the ice for practice at HP Pavilion.
"They're trying things to generate a little more offensively 5-on-5," Blues forward David Perron said after practice. "For us, it's going to be the same thing. We know their top six is real skilled, big guys and real smart in the offensive zone, and we've got to play the same way. It doesn't matter if it's Couture or Marleau, [Martin] Havlat, [Ryane] Clowe. They're all really good players.
"Adding a guy like Winchester – we played with him here – we know he's a big boy. He can be physical, and he scored some key goals for us, for a guy that doesn't score 20 goals a year. We'll have to look at him and hopefully play him physical and get an edge on him."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said he's not surprised that McLellan juggled his lineup and lines.
"They brought size," Hitchcock said. "Obviously, [Handzus] is a great PK guy. They obviously made some changes. It's the coach's obligation to make changes. When you're not happy with your team, win or lose, you have to make changes. We weren't happy with our 5-on-5 play, so maybe we didn't adjust personnel, but we sure worked today on things that needed to get a lot better."
Hitchcock said he'll stick with the same lineup he used in Game 4, which means forward Chris Stewart will get a second straight start after being benched in Game 2. Hitchcock, though, said he'll probably juggle his lines.
"Same lineup, but I think you'll see a different rotation," he said.