By Mary Walsh
SAN JOSE- The question going in to Saturday’s Sharks game was… well, there were many. Who would want the win more, the team that lost to SJ 5-1 last time around, or the team that lost a frustrating game to LA a few days earlier? The Coyotes gave their answer quickly with a goal just 36 seconds in to the period. The Sharks pushed back like the goal was a wakeup call heard loud and clear. In the end it was as close to a draw as it can get, a shootout won by the visitors.
There were other questions: how long before returning Sharks Martin Havlat and Dan Boyle are up to game speed?
Saturday morning, Boyle said that he believed his first hit, given or received, would be a benchmark in his proof of recovery. Mikkel Boedker and David Moss wasted no time helping Boyle get that out of the way, each hitting him before four minutes had elapsed in the game.
Boyle also scored on the power play, something the Sharks had been having some trouble with. Not a lot of trouble, but some. It didn’t look like Boyle will take very long to get back into the swing of things. Even his post-loss demeanor was much as it ever was:
I expect a lot out of myself as you guys know… I had to be realistic, I knew I was going to be not as good as I want to be, and that’s pretty much what I think happened out there. I think I definitely didn’t feel like my normal self out there but that’s to be expected. I’ll definitely get better in a hurry.
Boyle wasn’t entirely down on his situation. He expressed confidence that he would improve, and that what he lacked in Saturday’s game had everything to do with time off, not the injury that caused it. That was essentially what he said after the morning skate as well:
You can’t be in game shape unless you play in games. You can mimic it all you want, you just try to minimize the difference by doing all the skating [you can]. I imagine I have a little catching up to do.
For Martin Havlat, it was a second game back but also a first game back with last season’s linemates, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. Havlat was a little more adventurous Saturday than he had been Wednesday against the Los Angeles Kings. He did some things better and others worse, a pattern common to highly skilled, creative players. They try things that either work and make people say “ah!” or they don’t work and everyone says it was a dumb idea. Hindsight and all that.
Asked how many games Havlat thought he would need to be back up to game speed, he said:
A few, so hopefully… the less the better. It’s going to take some time, but we’ll see how it goes tonight. The last one wasn’t that bad, the first night.
He didn’t look bad, playing on Pavelski’s line or playing on Couture’s line. Wherever he lands– and of the many line adjustments Todd McLellan made Saturday, Couture’s was least tampered with– he is probably right. He probably will hit his stride sooner than later.
That these two are back in the lineup could mean the imminent departure of one of the call-ups, depending on how long Burns will be out. Saturday, Matt Nieto and James Sheppard both played while Mike Brown sat, though all signs at the end of practice pointed to James Sheppard sitting. So much for signs.
On a side note, it is good to see the fourth line regulars getting substantial time and responsibility on the penalty kill. That has always seemed like a logical choice, since they would otherwise have energy to burn. McLellan had Andrew Desjardins on the penalty kill last season as well, and now John McCarthy is taking regular shifts shorthanded.