DETROIT – If the Sharks are going to make any real noise in the postseason, it may come down to a pair of forwards who have been notoriously streaky over the past two seasons.
In Thursday’s 3-2 shootout win over Detroit, one of them snapped out of a scoring funk. The other didn’t.
[Kurz's Instant Replay: Sharks 3, Red Wings 2 (SO)]
Patrick Marleau and Marty Havlat have both been relatively quiet over the past two weeks. Marleau entered the game with the Red Wings with just one goal and three points in his last 11 games, although during the Sharks’ recently completed homestand, he was part of a line with Logan Couture and Tommy Wingels that was assigned to play against the opposing team’s best players.
Against the Red Wings, Marleau gave San Jose the early lead when he deposited a pass from Joe Pavelski on a two-on-one shorthanded rush.
“It was just a great pass by Pav,” Marleau said. “He got it underneath the guy’s stick, and I was able to get a quick shot, and beat [goalie Jimmy Howard] back to the far post.”
Havlat entered Detroit with just one goal and two assists over his last eight games. He went pointless for the seventh time in the last eight against the Red Wings, despite having a great chance to win it in overtime. He couldn’t quite get his stick on a pass while left alone at the front of the net.
He gave a brief jolt to the offense with four points in his first four games back from a lower body injury from March 18-25, but since then, Havlat has failed to have much of an impact. He has just 13 points (5g, 8a) in 33 games.
Todd McLellan was asked about Havlat after the game.
“Marty is effective when he’s holding onto pucks and making plays, and creating open space for other players,” McLellan said. “I’m not sure that we’re going to see him flying up and down the ice and going 100 miles per hour, but he’s a calculating player. When he’s handling the puck and creating for other people, he’s very effective.”
He suggested – not for the first time – that Havlat has to alter his game.
“I think as time goes on and the game changes and you get a little bit older and you go through some injuries, you have to adjust your game, as well. Is there more speed there? Yeah, there is. Is he the same skater and speedster that he was when he was 20 or 21 in Ottawa? I’m not sure. We can get him going a little bit quicker.”
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Tommy Wingels, a board member for You Can Play, spoke about the NHL’s partnership with the program of which the goal is to end homophobia in sports. The league made the groundbreaking announcement on Thursday, generating headlines across the United States and Canada.
“It’s obviously great news. The support from individual guys had been great up to this point," Wingels said. "I think almost all the teams had someone who was outspoken and had done something to get involved. But, to see the league as a whole partner with the NHLPA and come together as a group and say we’re going to provide some awareness and talk to our teams and players coming up through the system about it, it’s remarkable."
Wingels is a close friend of You Can Play director Patrick Burke. Brendan Burke, Patrick’s brother, came out as gay shortly before he was tragically killed in a car accident. Brendan was a student manager for the University of Miami Ohio hockey team on which Wingels was a player at the time.
“All the credit goes to Patrick. He works his [butt] off. I don’t think the guy sleeps, he’s always working,” Wingels said.
The project began just a little over a year ago. Is Wingels surprised as the rapid success?
“Yeah. I always said, I can’t imagine where this is going to be a year from now. Now, that year is here. We have the whole NHLPA and the league partnering with us, and it is remarkable.
“I’ll go back to my line, I’d love to see where this is six months from now. Maybe the project doesn’t need to exist anymore. The awareness will be that great. We’ll take it a little bit at a time here, and see how this goes.”
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The Sharks haven’t clinched a playoff spot yet, but math is on their side. According to sportsclubstats.com, San Jose has a 96.2 percent percent chance to make it to the postseason.
McLellan might not be aware of that number, but even if he was, it’s doubtful it would help his comfort level.
“We’re living day-to-day right now. I don’t think there’s any comfort in a seven or eight point lead right now," he said. "Four or five games from now if we still have it, that’s the big thing. Right now, the focus now is just winning to solidify a spot. Right now, the focus now is just winning to solidify a spot, and as we move on and if we collect enough, then we’ll start talking about home ice.”
The Sharks are seven points ahead of ninth place Phoenix. They were momentarily in fourth place in the West after their win over Detroit, but were surpassed by the Kings after Los Angeles' win over Colorado.
San Jose is a long shot to finish fourth, at just 17 percent, according to the site. The Sharks are most likely to finish sixth, which would mean a probable first round matchup with Vancouver, which is an 86 percent chance to finish third.
That has a lot to do with the tiebreaker, which the Sharks are unlikely to win with any other Western Conference team. They have just 14 regulation/overtime wins.