Sharks shuffle lines, seeking offense


SAN JOSEThere is only so much the coaching staff can do to try and reverse a scoring drought.

The Sharks have just three goals over their last three games, which includes two straight losses after a 1-0 win against Chicago last week. A 3-2 defeat to Vancouver on Saturday was followed by one of their poorer efforts of the season on Monday, when Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings shut them out, 2-0.

Cue the line changes.

Logan Couture was back with Ryane Clowe and Marty Havlat at practice on Wednesday, while Patrick Marleau skated on the wing with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Thats the look that Sharks are likely to go with for Thursdays home game against Montreal.

Couture and Clowe have had success in the past, of course, including most of last season. The hope from Todd McLellan is that the reunion benefits everyone involved, as Couture, Clowe and Havlat have combined for just a single goal over the last eight games.

Were trying to jumpstart a few players, said McLellan. Our offensive production hasnt been enough for us to win games. When you look at the game as a whole in L.A., we didnt play very well and I wasnt very happy with our overall game, but we still only gave up two. We should be able to win games when we only give up two.

Were trying to jumpstart the offense and trying to create more around the blue paint, and the familiarity that Logan has with Clowie is probably the most important thing right now.

Couture gave the standard it doesnt matter who Im playing with response when asked about the changes, but acknowledged that he enjoys playing with the rugged Clowe.

I think we know how to read off of each other, said Couture. Hes strong on pucks, and I try to get in on the forecheck as hard as I can, and he can lay pucks in to me. Hes big around the net, takes pucks to the net, and last year I was there to bang in some rebounds. Thats something I need to get back to, scoring some dirty goals.

Havlat, who missed the first four games of the regular season while recovering from shoulder surgery, started his season with Couture and Clowe back on Oct. 21 in New Jersey. He recorded a goal and seven assists in his first eight games, playing primarily on that line.

Since then, Havlat has just one assist in his last nine games.

Everyone goes through slumps, thats just the way this game is. Hopefully he can play in the other teams end, said Couture of Havlat. Today, we talked about getting around the blue paint and scoring some ugly goals. Hopefully, thats something that we can do.

The biggest risk with these changes, though, is tinkering with Marleaus game. Since moving back to center the second line, Marleau has been the Sharks steadiest point producer with 11 points in the last nine games (7g, 4a).

Need more proof of how important Marleaus game is to the Sharks? Of his 20 points on the season, only one of those, a goal against Vancouver late last Saturday, has come in a Sharks loss.

Theres always a risk of trying to help one or two others, that you stunt someone else a little bit, said McLellan. Im confident in that Patty feels good enough about his game. Hes still playing with two good players, that he can go back to the wing awhile and produce.

Its whatever is best for the team and whatever the coach thinks, said Marleau of the change. You just have to continue playing the same way.

Marleau was unaware that all but one of his points has come in games that the Sharks have emerged victorious.

It gives you that much more incentive to get on the board and help the team win, he said.

Handzus still recovering

Sharks center Michal Handzus was back at the practice facility on Wednesday after missing Saturdays game in Los Angeles with an illness. Handzus rode the bike and worked out, and is probable to play against the Canadians.Colin White was still missing on Wednesday due to a family funeral.Antti Niemi will start against Montreal.

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