Exactly a week ago on Thursday, Todd McLellan ended the experiment. For the time being.
With his team somewhat sluggish out of the gates this season and looking for inspiration, the San Jose Sharks head coach halted the divorce of the big boys, reuniting Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau during the second period of a 4-2 win over Colorado.
"And they've been together since," McLellan told ESPN.com.
The Sharks responded since then with three quality victories and that "one stinker in Calgary," McLellan said. But overall getting the top line back together has been the tonic his team needed at this point, punctuated Wednesday night by the Team Canada Olympic trio scoring every single goal in a 5-2 win over New Jersey, the big boys combining for a whopping 13 points.
"For the most part they've done a good job of igniting the team and everyone seems to be falling in line," the coach said. "Maybe that's what they were waiting for. Maybe the coach was the dummy that kept them apart, I don't know."
The coach is no dummy. I like what McLellan did in camp and to begin the season, separating those three star players. His theory was sound: they needed to try and develop chemistry with other linemates because over the course of a long year, whether it's injuries or slumps or matchups, you're going to play with other people. So get to know them better on the ice.
"In the playoffs last year we had to break them up for different reasons, obviously playing against Detroit with Datsyuk and Zetterberg playing on different lines," McLellan sid. "We're going to need that again this year. So the experiment with them being apart is certainly not over. But we'll stick with what we have now and we'll get our game to where it's supposed to be."
San Jose's game is still not up to par, although it's getting there. A middling 4-3-1 start has had its ups and downs. Wednesday's win over New Jersey, to me, was the perfect microcosm of the young season for the Sharks. In the first period, they overwhelmed the Devils, and it looked like they were going to run away with a 9-1 victory. But by my vantage point on the couch three time zones away, they fell asleep in the second period and looked out of sync. It's still a work in progress.
"Looking for some consistency," McLellan said. "We've been pretty good for large portions and then, like you said, we might get a little dopey at times and not execute the way we can."
His precise focus is the team's execution in its own end.
"When we're going out of our end clean, we're a much better team," the coach said. "So we've got some work to do there. I thought the Devils game was a real reflection of that -- when we're able to make a pass or two (from the back end) and get our eyes up and get going, we were a very effective team. When we muddled around in our end and couldn't get the puck off the boards, we became pretty average. Obviously some work to do there."
I still think this blue-line corps needs an addition. The Sharks never replaced Rob Blake in the offseason. They need another top-four type. Not that they grow on trees, but I suspect that's something Sharks GM Doug Wilson will continue to monitor between now and the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
In goal, Antti Niemi has been outplayed by Antero Niittymaki, as underlined by the latter's .932 save percentage and 1.84 goals-against average that places him among the league leaders. Not to mention the most important stat: his 3-0-1 record. It appears McLellan might be leaning a bit more on "Nitty" for now. But fantasy leaguers shouldn't get carried away. The Sharks coach hasn't designated anyone the starter for the rest of the season.
"I think it's way too early for me to declare that, by any means," McLellan said. "Antti Niemi is going to be a very good goalie for us as well. We anticipate that he's going to find his game and continue to work on it. With Nitty right now, he's playing better than Antti. When the team needs to win some games, we'll go with the hot guy and that happens to be Nitty right now."