Sharks toughen up for playoff push
Truth: The San Jose Sharks are not a fighting team.
Heck, they aren’t even the most physical team out on the ice most of the time.
Not that you would know that from their four-game homestand after the Olympic break, where the physicality of their play was paramount in winning three out of four to climb within two points of the Anaheim Ducks in the Pacific Division standings.
(Not that Todd McLellan thinks that catching up to the Ducks is the most important part of the team’s push towards the playoffs. More on that later.)
But the Sharks grittier style of play over the last week and a half has generated wins. It’s a style that they will hopefully maintain through the last leg of the regular season.
While the Sharks were dominant on the road — taking two out of three against the Flyers and the Devils — they appeared shaky and faltered in their first game back at the Tank against a sub-par Carolina Hurricanes squad.
Then came their come-from-behind victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, a game peppered with more hard hits in the second period than the team tends to put on in two periods of play.
The return of Raffi Torres, of course, makes San Jose a tougher team just by being on the bench.
Team captain Joe Thornton commented on the Torres’ influence after the 5-3 win over Pittsburgh:
“Raffi had two big (hits) … You could feel the energy in the building, it really came up after that… I think everybody got into it after the big hits. We got physical and I think that totally turned the game.”
It’s fair to assume though that the Sharks wouldn’t play that tough every game headed into April. Particularly since the team will be playing nearly every other day for the remaining month, and such a schedule takes a toll on the body.
Then on Tuesday, with Torres on the bench no less, the Sharks turned up the grit factor and unleashed fury on the worn-down Toronto Maple Leafs.
The game not only featured more hard checks but a handful of fights, including one from young forward Tommy Wingels, who admits he isn’t much of a fighter:
“We have guys in the lineup that are willing to (fight.) We like to play fast and physical, but try to not to get caught up in those kinds of games, where there’s a lot of fights. But tonight was a little different, and I thought we handled ourselves the best we could.”
McLellan echoed the notion that the Sharks aren’t much of a “fighting” team, although thought such play was necessary:
“We have that ability. Guys take care of each other. When we have to do it, we do it. The game at 6-2, things get a bit chippy…”
So now Team Teal heads into their second-to-last road trip looking to keep the intensity at a high and to improve their position in the standings, which McLellan explains is more than just “hunting down” the Ducks:
“There’s always the talk of Anaheim, chasing them down, that type of stuff. But there’s a team in LA that’s won eight games straight and they’re going on a five game homestand. The St. Louis, the Chicagos, the Colorados, they’re all playing well. So just to keep up with the rest of the league, you have to win.”
All of which, for the record, are teams that the Sharks will face in their final stretch before the playoffs begin.
Spreading that hard-hitting mentality throughout the club will pay off, as Torres explained after the win against the Penguins:
“This is how you become a team. This is how you start knowing that you can win these kinds of games… Guys like myself, kind of the supporting cast need to create some energy for (the top lines)… I just want to make sure we get a little more physical.”