For the San Jose Sharks, when Saturday rolls around, they will have played just two games on NHL sized ice against NHL opponents in a two week time span. With more than a week between the last exhibition in San Jose and their two game series with Columbus in Sweden, the Sharks showed they could overcome the lack of competition by grabbing 75 percent of the available points.
“There’s nothing like the game competition to get you going, so it will be good to play on Saturday and then on Tuesday to get right back into the swing of things,” said Scott Nichol.
Now they must find themselves game ready again with only practice to prepare them.
“You’re trying to raise the intensity level out there, bump some guys and get into that game mentality,” said Marleau. “We did that a little bit today and I think that will help us on Saturday.”
“We’ve had some tough practices, but they haven’t been drawn out,” said Nichol. “Todd’s done a good job of not letting it be stale every single practice. It all kind of comes together at the end of the week with what we need to do to win the game against Atlanta on Saturday.”
San Jose’s bench boss has put his own wrinkles in to the practice sets to help set a game tone.
“We’re actually scrimmaging a little more than we normally would, but it’s all situational,” said McLellan. “It’s not like we’re dropping the puck and letting them play. It’s situations that would happen in the game. I thought our practice on Tuesday was a physical one.”
A lot of things can be copied in practice, but a game situation will never truly be replicated.
“You’re not trying to hurt anybody, but you’re not going to let anyone walk around you to go to the net,” said Marleau of a difference. “You practice 100 hundred percent, but as far as body checking, maybe guys ease up a little bit there because you don’t want to hurt your own players. As far as letting someone get around you, that is not in the cards.”
“For as much as we’d love to recreate the intensity and speed of the game, it’s never the same in practice,” said McLellan. “We need to get our legs under us and get going. You’re never as physical as you would be in a game against the opposition. When you’re practicing the power play, you tend to let up on the shot because you don’t want it to smoke anybody up front.”
The Sharks have one advantage in their current space between games as their high level of talent means their practices has some of the best in the world squaring off against each other. A faceoff between Joe Thornton
and Joe Pavelski
would not be much different than the Olympic gold medal game. Canadian Olympian Dany Heatley coming down the wing would have to go through Swedish Olympian Douglas Murray
“You’re practicing against some of the best players in the league and it helps you get better day in and day out,” said Marleau.
“Look at all the Olympians we have on our team,” said Nichol. “When you’re playing five-on-five down low against Thornton or Marleau and you’ve got Danny Boyle going back door, for the guys on the bottom two lines, it does keep you on edge because you’re chasing those guys around.”
For the shooters, they are going up every day against either the current Stanley Cup winning goaltender or the top netminder from the 2006 Olympics. Those challenges can be more difficult than some NHL games.
“These guys are working so hard in practice and they are working on their game. They want you to shoot hard,” said Marleau. “When you’re shooting for your spots it helps them as well, but they help our game out by being who they are and playing great in goal.”
So what was the optimal amount of time to have off following the European trip? It depends on how many days a team has in hand.
“We’re never happy as coaches,” joked McLellan. “If we would have had to play today, we would have said it would have been nice to have one or two more days off. Visa-versa, we don’t play until Saturday and now we’re wishing we could play today. The schedule is what it is.”
The good news is the players are ready for the puck to drop and for the North American part of their schedule to get underway.
“They are saying they want to play,” said McLellan of the players’ actions. “I know they are getting tired of practicing. We’ve had two games in about two weeks and a lot of practices. They want to go out and find out where we are at.”
McLellan noted he would likely tell his goalies which one would start the home opener at some point on Friday.
The Sharks will host Atlanta in their home opener Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The contest will be on CSN California, 89.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com. Tickets for all Sharks games can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com.