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Sharks could stick with new-look lines

by Eric Gilmore
SAN JOSE – Shortly after falling behind by two goals in the first period Thursday night against Pittsburgh, Sharks coach Todd McLellan began juggling his lines, and those changes helped spark a 4-3 shootout win.

McLellan liked what he saw from his new-look lines against Pittsburgh, and he said “there’s a good chance” he’ll open with them Saturday night against Nashville.

During the morning skate, regular second-line center Logan Couture worked with the first line at right wing, along with center Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Regular first-line left wing Patrick Marleau centered the second line with Ryane Clowe and Torrey Mitchell, who moved up from the third line. Mitchell swapped places with Martin Havlat, who skated on the third line with center Michal Handzus and left wing Jamie McGinn.

“We’re 11 games into the season. You can get a little bit stale,” McLellan said of the changes. “And we weren’t getting a lot from our third and fourth lines, anyhow. Our other two lines for the most part carried the team on the road trip, but they started to sputter at the end, too. Maybe a fresh look -- it’s time.”

With these changes, McLellan spread the offensive firepower more evenly throughout his top three lines. By moving Marleau to the second line, he believes he created a matchup problem for Nashville, which features one of the league’s top defensive pairs in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.

“They’ll try to match up against one of our big centermen, I’m assuming [Thornton], so that will allow another big body in [Marleau] to play against other pairs. When you put [Marleau] and [Clowe] together, they’re two big men. If they’re playing well, they’re a load to handle down low.”

Havlat said he skated on the same line at times with Handzus five years ago for the Blackhawks.

“He’s very smart with the puck, with the positioning,” Havlat said. “He’s a very good passer and play-maker. He can give you the puck pretty quick. He’s great at both ends, offensively and defensively.”

Couture said the moves make sense after the way the Sharks bounced back against Pittsburgh.

“We obviously knew we didn’t play well in the first period the other night,” Clowe said. “He changes things up and it seemed to turn us around a little bit. We played better after that. I think that’s the seasoning behind it. … Whoever I get to play with I’m glad to. I’ve gone from two good players to two good players. Hopefully I can get something going tonight.”

First-line wing Joe Pavelski is still battling a flu bug, but he was on the ice for Saturday morning’s skate and said he will play against Nashville. Pavelski, who did not practice on Friday, said he felt “better” Saturday.
“It’s something you have to deal with.”

Pavelski said he was dealing with the flu “a little bit” Thursday night against Pittsburgh but didn’t use it as an excuse for going without a point and posting a minus-2.

“I’ve got to be better than I was then,” he said. “First period was not good by any means. We need better starts there. It was good to see guys battle back, not totally waste the whole night.”
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