SUNRISE, Fla. -- Part of the motivation was to spark his struggling offense when Sharks coach Todd McLellan began rotating Joe Thornton into Patrick Marleau's slot on the second line during San Jose's 2-1 shootout victory over the Washington Capitals.
But the moves also were designed specifically to cut into Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin's ice time.
"It's a lot tougher to match when you throw different pieces out in different combinations," McLellan said Wednesday, noting that Washington coach Adam Oates tried to play Ovechkin against Marleau, not Thornton. "So the more we could get Jumbo out, even if it was for a shortened period, maybe it kept Ovechkin off the ice a little bit more."
The strategy worked.
Thornton ended up playing 22:49, just two seconds short of his high for the season and well above the 17:20 that the Sharks captain had been averaging the previous three games. Ovechkin was on the ice a season-low 18:32, well under his 21:07 average for the season.
Immediately after the severity of Logan Couture's hand injury became known, McLellan advised that forward lines would be mixed even more frequently than usual as the coach looked for productive combinations.
At the start of Tuesday night's game, McLellan kept the lines as they had been for most of the previous three games without Couture. Thornton centered Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns, and Marleau was between Matt Nieto and Tommy Wingels.
"The first segment, we started and stayed with regular line combinations, and I thought for about the first seven or eight minutes, we got very little forecheck, and we weren't on our feet," McLellan said. "We needed to change it a little bit, so that's when it started."
By then, Oates' preferences were also clear, and the chess-like moves were under way. At times, Pavelski also took on the role of second-line center.
While the Sharks did pick up two points, McLellan isn't ready to say he's found an approach that will work against all opponents. And the fact San Jose has scored only one goal in the past two games isn't exactly encouraging as far as improved productivity.
"We're going to need more than that tomorrow night, and we're going to need more than that to finish the trip and as we go forward," McLellan said, referring to Thursday's game against the Florida Panthers and a Saturday matinee in Tampa.
There are aspects of his team's game that McLellan likes.
"The good thing about these last two games is we've tightened up defensively," he said. "We haven't played real loose, we've gotten good goaltending, and we've stayed out of the penalty box for the most part. Those are some of the ingredients that we're going to have for us to have a chance for success."
Sheppard indicated Wednesday that he has been focused on the family matter the past week and took a red eye after Saturday's game against the Boston Bruins to his Halifax home. Sheppard was able to spend time with his grandfather before he died Sunday.
The Sharks forward rejoined the team in Washington but was not able to practice, and the decision was made to keep him out of the lineup. Sheppard said he hopes to play Thursday.
Sharks (29-12-6) at Florida (18-21-7), 4:30 p.m. CSNCA