Sharks' changes were for better

Published: Monday, Apr. 29, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Apr. 30, 2013 - 6:06 pm

SAN JOSE – These are upbeat times for the Sharks as they prepare for a Stanley Cup run that begins Wednesday on the road against the Vancouver Canucks.

It wasn't too long ago that it looked as if today might be spent cleaning out lockers and groping for explanations as to why the Sharks missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

By late March, the impressive 7-0 start to an abbreviated season was overshadowed by an uninspired 6-11-6 stretch that dropped San Jose into ninth place in the Western Conference.

Then came the turnaround – a 12-3-1 run beginning March 25 that enabled the Sharks to clinch a playoff spot in their final home game of the regular season.

Here's a primer on the key changes that put San Jose back in the playoff picture:

1. A new role for Brent Burns.

The Sharks acquired the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Burns in 2011 to be their stud defenseman for years. But Burns was dealing with injuries and looked lost at times when he returned to the lineup.

Coach Todd McLellan, however, knew Burns had experience as a forward, having coached him when both were with the Minnesota Wild organization. And on March 12, Burns was reborn as a right wing.

At forward, he could dictate more, or, as he described it, "cause some havoc."

The experiment worked. Burns ended up with nine goals and 20 points in 24 games up front.

2. The need for speed and the roster makeover.

In the eight days leading up to the trade deadline, general manager Doug Wilson said he would be a buyer and seller. First, Wilson traded veterans Douglas Murray, Ryane Clowe and Michal Handzus for draft picks.

With each trade, the Sharks also became a faster team that could better play the "north-south" game the coaches were preaching.

The change was instant. On March 25 – the day Murray was traded, Clowe out because of an injury and Handzus a healthy scratch – the Sharks raced up and down the ice, beating the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 on the road.

3. Bringing a villain into the fold.

Minutes before the April 3 deadline, Wilson acquired wing Raffi Torres – a notoriously hard hitter despised in San Jose for a nasty hit to the head of Milan Michalek in the 2006 playoffs.

Like the departed Clowe, Torres plays a physical game. But unlike Clowe, Torres also brought the speed the Sharks were seeking while chipping in with two goals, four assists and a shootout winner.

4. Joe Pavelski gets his own line.

By moving Burns to wing, McLellan also was able to build a third line around Pavelski. With Torres on one wing and Tommy Wingels on the other, the Sharks were able to spread their scoring among three lines for the first time all season.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by David Pollak



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