The Sharks spent their second consecutive day practicing at Logitech Ice on Wednesday, marking the first time in nearly two weeks that the team has had the opportunity for two consecutive days of practice. With the recent roster shake-up and an emotional two-game road trip fresh in the memory bank, the Sharks readied to hit the mid-way point of their season against the Detroit Red Wings at HP Pavilion on Thursday, January 4 at 7:30 p.m.
The Sharks enter the contest with momentum following their 4-2 victory against the Dallas Stars. It was a statement game for Team Teal, who rebounded from an 8-0 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes just one night earlier. In fact, a great deal of soul searching was done on that trip from Phoenix to Dallas as the players addressed several issues that centered around preparing and focusing on the little details of the game.
Head Coach Ron Wilson feels that the loss to the Coyotes, in which he earned his first career ejection, will be the most pivotal moment this season.
“That game will be the best thing that happens this year,” said Wilson. “Just like last year, losing ten games in a row. You have to respond to adversity. It makes you better.”
Wilson used the low point as a learning lesson for not only the young players, but the veterans as well. Instead of the usual pre-game skate against Dallas, the coaching staff called a 40-minute meeting that showed the teams low-lights from the night before.
“It was a special occasion to watch it,” said Wilson. “What we need is for our veteran people that accept the mantle of leadership to step up.”
By matching their season-best with four goals in the first period against Dallas, the Sharks obviously responded, showing the tenacity and detail that was stressed.
“We’ve showed that once we bear down and concentrate, that good things will happen,” said Captain Patrick Marleau
. “When you play with a sense of urgency, that type of desperate hockey that we played against Dallas, you get results.”
On Wednesday, it was echoed through the locker room that hitting that snag was a coming-together event for the team.
“Last game was a good for our learning process,” said goaltender Vesa Toskala. “Getting ready and coming out together is important. If we come out like we did in Dallas every night, we will be tough to beat.”
As Wilson referenced, last season the Sharks lost ten consecutive games and the tough stretch served as a wake-up call. In the Sharks favor this season, the alarm sounded after a successful start.
After forty games in 2005-06, the Sharks just surpassed the Phoenix Coyotes to vault out of the last place position in the Pacific Division with just 43 points. Their 19-16-5 record put them in 11th place of the Western Conference.
Sitting in the fourth or fifth spot in Playoff positioning for the majority of the year, the Sharks mountain to climb won’t be as large this season as it was the last.
“We had to get off to a better start and we have,” said center Marcel Goc. “But we still aren’t where we want to be.”
That point was made yesterday when right wing Steve Bernier and defenseman Matt Carle were assigned to Worcester, the Sharks top development affiliate in the American Hockey League. While the timetable for the moves has yet to be clarified, the two are still expected to play a big role with the Sharks this season.
“Those two guys are a big part of our team, and sure, it shakes us up a bit,” said Marleau.
But a shake-up isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In 2002, Jonathan Cheechoo was sent down to Cleveland for a nine-game stretch. After being called back up, the reigning “Rocket” Richard Award winner was a different player and never relinquished his roster spot.
While the two players will have their plates full with four games in five nights with Worcester, the Sharks will prepare games against the Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets, both from the Central Division. The Sharks hit this stretch brimming with confidence knowing that they are a better team than they were before this past weekend.
“Our best hockey is still ahead of us,” Toskala simply stated.
Wilson did credit rookie center Joe Pavelski
for his performance since being recalled by the Sharks on November 11. Since his NHL debut, ‘Little Joe’ has 13 points and eight goals. The former standout at the University of Wisconsin has definitely caught Wilson’s eye.
“Our best line in that Dallas game was Joe Pavelski
’s,” evaluated Wilson. “They offered consistent pressure, good scoring opportunities and good defense.”
Pavelski’s play has earned him a spot on one of the team’s top two lines. In fact, he has given Wilson the opportunity to play Marleau and Joe Thornton
on the same line, with Marleau playing left wing.
“Defensively has been getting the job done,” said Wilson. “If he continues to play like this, he is the #2 center on this team. But, we’ll have to see how we play.”
McLAREN RETURNING TO FORM
Veteran defenseman Kyle McLaren missed three games prior to the road trip due to a virus. The hefty 6-foot-4, 230-pound blueliner was affected physically be the ailment.
“For five days, I couldn’t eat or drink anything,” said McLaren.
While he is perfectly healthy now, he lost several pounds due to his lack of nourishment. With the schedule the way it has been, getting back those lost pounds has been difficult and he isn’t where he needs to be.
“I’m getting back up there, but it’s tough to do with back-to-back games.”
SCOTT PARKER UPDATE
Scott Parker missed practice again on Wednesday after getting injured on Sunday against Dallas. A timetable has yet to be set for his return.
“[Scott Parker] sprained his ankle,” said Wilson. “We’ll see how long it takes him to get back.”