However, the Sharks have been hit strongly by the injury bug (no surprise, as hockey is a contact sport), yet they continue to play consistently well. Team Teal has played stretches without Joe Pavelski
, Devin Setoguchi, Torrey Mitchell
and Ryan Vesce. Captain Rob Blake will now miss a few games because of an upper body injury. Despite the line in front of the training room, San Jose had a six-game winning streak snapped Thursday night in Detroit.
“We’ve found a way to gut it out,” Head Coach Todd McLellan said. “Mentally we’ve had to battle through injuries.”
Teams only have a couple of options when injuries occur.
“You can say we’re beat up and there’s nothing we can do about it or you can say we’re beat up and our young players are coming up from Worcester and we can do it,” McLellan said. “Either you deal with it or it becomes an excuse.”
The call-ups are ready upon arrival and don’t want to be perceived as a let down on the ice.
“We want to continue the winning and not be a bump in the road for the team,” rookie forward Jamie McGinn, one of the players on the Worcester-San Jose shuttle, said.
The reason for San Jose’s continued success is their American Hockey League affiliate in Worcester and how the players are ready to be dropped right into the National Hockey League when they arrive.
“We take a lot of pride in knowing the system,” McGinn said. “Roy and Cunny (Worcester Head Coach Roy Sommer and Assistant Coach David Cunniff), do a great job. It’s the same video and they teach us well.
“There are a couple of minor adjustments, but it’s pretty similar to (how we play) in the AHL,” rookie forward Logan Couture
Whether it’s McGinn or Couture up front or Derek Joslin and Joe Callahan on the backend, the players coming up are ready to go.
And they’re ready to be placed in any role. McGinn has seen action on several different lines and the same has happened with Couture.
“You really have to know who you’re playing with,” Couture said. “With the fourth line, you’ve got to get the puck deep. When you’re (with more skilled players), you try to create more offense.”
Couture was centering the fourth line and found himself with Marleau and Manny Malhotra in Detroit after he scored his first NHL goal and help secure a final point in the standings on the road trip.
“He ended up in a situation playing with Patty and Manny,” McLellan said. “He played well enough and moved up.”
In Worcester, the players know they will see a lot of ice every game and their roles.
“In Worcester, you’ll be in all the situations,” said Couture about playing even strength and on the power play. “Todd has thrown me out on right wing, left wing and center. You have to be ready.”
McLellan notes the players wouldn’t be here without the skill level, but how they play usually varies on one item.
“It’s confidence,” McLellan said. “The biggest part is that we as coaches reward them when they’re feeling better about themselves.”
That said, a promotion, either to certain lines, or staying in San Jose, is also predicated upon one’s play.
“It works vice-versa. We have to know when to cut them back when they’re not going well,” McLellan said.
When Couture scored his first NHL goal, he had the benefit of family watching as they made the short drive from London, Ontario.
“It was awesome,” Couture said. “Especially to have my parents there.”
Couture did take some good natured grief from friends for scoring his first tally in a region of Canada that’s partial to the Red Wings.
“A lot of my friends are Red Wings fans and they teased me,” Couture said.
McGinn saw a lot of time last season, but Couture is still seeing some big name players for the first time. He’s already over the awe factor of seeing a Thornton or Heatley next to him on the bench.
“In the preseason, you look down and see the names,” Couture said. “It’s pretty special. Growing up, I watched Rob Blake play.”
Hockey is a very physical sport. Injuries will happen, regardless of the playing level. The training staff will get players back to 100 percent as soon as possible, but until that time comes, the shuttle from Worcester has done a terrific job keeping the Sharks atop the NHL standings.
McLellan noted that Pavelski may be the first to return. Maybe sooner rather than later.
“We’d love to have him tomorrow,” McLellan said, “but we won’t know until the skate in the morning or maybe game time.”
Blake’s situation will be clearer on Saturday, although he will not play against the Red Wings.
“It will all be reviewed today,” McLellan said.
Setoguchi, Mitchell, Vesce and anyone else likely won’t play against Pittsburgh on Saturday night.
“The others, I don’t anticipate (them playing) tomorrow,” McLellan said.
BACK-TO-BACK STANLEY CUP FINALISTS
This marks the second year in a row the Sharks have played Pittsburgh and Detroit in successive games.
“We’re fine with that,” McLellan said. “It’s fun to play against those teams.”
What McLellan wants is a strong game for the first contest in HP Pavilion after yet another road trip.
“The last time off a long trip, we were not prepared to go compete,” McLellan said. “Perhaps the fear of the opponent (Pittsburgh) will prepare us.”
BACK TO WORCESTER
Defenseman Joe Callahan was returned to the Worcester Sharks following the Sharks game in Detroit.
The Sharks will play hosts to Pittsburgh on Saturday in a 7:30 p.m. affair that will be on CSN California (CSN California Plus to start the game for satellite users), 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com