Joe Thornton's move down Sharks' lineup pays off in win over Flyers

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Joe Thornton's move down Sharks' lineup pays off in win over Flyers

The Sharks' line combinations have been a subject of fascination since the 2018-19 season opened up. They’ve been shuffled so much, it’s almost difficult to tell if there’s any real order to them anymore. 

Coach Pete DeBoer acknowledged that much after the Sharks' 4-3 overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night. It’s not about promoting or demoting anyone, it’s about finding what gives his team the best opportunity to win games.

“We roll four lines,” the Sharks’ bench boss said. “I don’t think anyone’s moving down or up.”

DeBoer has gotten into the habit of mixing and matching the forward attack in the middle of games in an effort to generate more offense. This act of throwing the lines into the blender paid off on Saturday when DeBoer made one of his most interesting moves yet – moving Joe Thornton out of his usual slot on the Sharks' “first” line, and putting him on the unofficial third line with Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen (And later wih Melker Karlsson when Labanc was part of another line shakeup).

“We’re not moving him down,” DeBoer insisted, noting that Thornton is still in rebound mode after missing time because of an infection in his surgically repaired right knee. “I moved him around tonight just because we needed to get some things going. It was a blender of forward lines tonight.”

Clearly the move worked. The newly-tooled Thornton line drew a second-period penalty on Flyers’ captain Claude Giroux, which resulted in Pavelski tying the game on the ensuing power play. The shuffle further paid off when Thornton found the back of the net with less than five minutes to play in regulation.

Thornton told the media afterwards he was comfortable moving throughout the lineup because of his confidence in his teammates.

“I just know we’re a deep team,” he said. “If I go down and play with [Melker] and Marcus, that’s still great players I’m playing with. So, it doesn’t matter where I am in this lineup. We have a solid forward group.”

Now with a bevy of games to look at, DeBoer has an even better idea of what combinations he can piece together mid-game, and which ones already fit.

“I think Couture’s line has been excellent from day one,” he said. “And we have three other lines that every night, we try and see what works the best for us right now.”

With the goal of rolling four lines without putting any emphasis on moving up or down the lineup, the Sharks have more freedom to put different things together whenever they want in an effort to generate offense. 

DeBoer hopes to find more winning combinations that can last the full 60 minutes. He admitted that while he likes that he can shake up his lines, “I don’t want to have to shuffle the deck every night either.”

Patrick Marleau's agent says his client only wanted to play for Sharks

Patrick Marleau's agent says his client only wanted to play for Sharks

When the Toronto Maple Leafs traded Patrick Marleau to the Carolina Hurricanes in a salary dump this summer, the NHL veteran had one thing on his mind.

Marleau was singularly focused on reuniting with the Sharks, his agent Pat Brisson wrote to The Mercury News' Curtis Pashelka.

"Carolina had interest in Patrick for him to be part of the team this season, however Patrick wanted to be a Shark at all [costs]," Brisson e-mailed Pashelka on Friday. "He will retire as a Shark. At that point I started communicating with (Sharks general manager) Doug Wilson on a regular basis in order to try making it work."

Marleau signed a three-year, $18.75 million contract with the Maple Leafs in 2017, and the longest tenured player in Sharks history suited up in a different uniform for the first time in two decades. Needing to re-sign a host of restricted free agents, including star winger Mitch Marner, the Leafs traded Marleau to the Hurricanes just before June's NHL draft. 

Although the 'Canes wanted to keep him, Marleau wanted to return to his first NHL home. That appeared unlikely when Wilson told The Athletic in September that the Sharks were focused on giving their young forwards opportunities to earn roster spots in training camp.

But the Sharks struggled out of the gate, starting 0-3-0 to begin the season while dealing with Evander Kane's suspension, some injuries and those young players adjusting to the NHL. San Jose wanted to bring in a veteran presence, and that opened the door for a reunion.

"The Sharks have made promises and commitments to their young players as part of their development," Brisson wrote in the e-mail. "If they were to look at bringing a veteran player obviously Patrick was going to be Doug's choice all along."

[RELATED: How Dell's win can help Sharks, fellow goalie Jones rebound]

Marleau officially signed with the Sharks on Wednesday, and he scored two goals in his first game back two days later. He kept skating on his own and with former teammates, but didn't participate in a training camp as a free agent. Marleau told reporters Saturday he experienced "a lot of ups and downs" when asked if he had a chance to sign with another team, but wouldn't elaborate. 

Now, Marleau is set to play his first home game for the Sharks in two-and-a-half years Sunday when San Jose hosts the Calgary Flames. Marleau is sure to receive a raucous ovation, further reminding him that this reunion was worth the wait. 

Sharks look to douse Flames early, avoid another early one-goal hole


Sharks look to douse Flames early, avoid another early one-goal hole

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks finally broke through Thursday night by taking their first lead in a game, on their way to their first win of the season, no less.

But five games into the 2019-20 season, San Jose's opponents still are getting on the scoreboard first and doing so very early in the first period.

With the Calgary Flames coming to SAP Center on Sunday night on the tail end of a back-to-back, the Sharks have a prime opportunity to buck that trend and strike first.

"That's the plan," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said after practice Saturday. "Our fans are always ready to go, they always give us an opportunity to do that. But it's on us."

San Jose hasn't just allowed the first goal in every game. They've allowed the first goal less than 10 minutes into every first period so far this season, putting the Sharks on their heels before right from the get-go.

While loose defense and poor decision-making are mostly to blame for the early one-goal hole, DeBoer is encouraged by the strides the team made late in Thursday's win over the Blackhawks. With a couple of good practices under their belt heading into Sunday's contest, the Sharks should be able to continue building on that late-game performance in Chicago.

"I always worry about these games when you travel back at the end of a trip, that first game back when you arrive at 3 or 4 in the morning as we did," DeBoer said about returning from the roadie. "But we had a good skate today and we should be ready to go."

The Flames won't have the same luxury of getting solid practice time in. Calgary visits the South Bay at the end of a road trip and on the second game of a back-to-back, losing 6-2 to the Golden Knights in Las Vegas on Saturday night. 

Additionally, in all three of the Flames' losses through this early part of the season, their opponent has scored the first goal. If the Sharks want a chance at scoring first and putting another notch in the win column, this is the time. 

How does that strong start become a reality? The big key for the Sharks is going to be staying smart without compromising any of their grit -- something DeBoer referred to on Saturday as "aggressive patience."

"I know that sounds contradictory, but that's what we need," the coach said. "We're an aggressive team, our systems are aggressive. But the key is walking that line and knowing when to go and when you have to lay off and be patient and support each other. That always takes some work."

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DeBoer knows it could take some time, but he believes his squad is worthy of getting it done.

"We're heading in the right direction," DeBoer said. "I like where we're going, but there's still a ways to go."