San Jose Sharks: First-Year Head Coach Todd McLellan Brings the Chemistry

Andy BenschSenior Writer IFebruary 19, 2009

Granted, he did inherit a roster filled with some of the most talented hockey players in the world, but the Sharks' rookie head coach Todd McLellan has created a bigger buzz than any other previous Sharks coach that came before him. 

In his first season with the Sharks, McLellan has been handed the largest set of expectations for any rookie head coach in NHL history: win the Stanley cup.

Darryl Sutter didn't do it in his five seasons with the club, and neither did Ron Wilson in his four plus seasons in San Jose. Both coaches led the Sharks to multiple playoff appearances but for however much success either coach achieved, there was always a significant portion of the Sharks' fan base that wasn't on-board the Sutter or Wilson bandwagon. 

However, at this moment in time, every single Sharks fan is on the Todd McLellan bandwagon. Anyone who says they are not on the bandwagon, are not Sharks fans. You can go into any chat room you want, whether it is myspace, hockeybuzz, the arena, facebook, and you won't find one Sharks fan badmouthing Todd McLellan.

To be fair, Darryl Sutter never had the roster that the Sharks currently have but Ron Wilson did. Granted Wilson did not have Rob Blake or Dan Boyle on his team, but he did have Brian Campbell and a healthy Torrey Mitchell.

Therefore, even though McLellan is coaching the best Sharks team ever assembled, he has done something that previous coaches failed to do, which is to let the players play.

One of the main problems with recent Sharks teams under Wilson was the lack of chemistry. The former coach was extremely infamous for flip-flopping his lines. Wilson was so prime to do so that it was not uncommon to hear Sharks fans claim that he changed his lines "every five minutes".

But that is all changed now. The team has found chemistry in their line combinations. Now due to some injuries the forward lines for the Sharks from the past game against Edmonton were:





However, the line in bold of Michalek, Pavelski and Clowe has been playing together on Todd McLellan's "second" line for over three months now. And before a recent injury that preempted McLellan to move Marleau down to the third line, the Sharks first-line for the overwhelming majority of the season was Marleau-Thornton-Setoguchi.

It is safe to say that trio has played together in over 85 percent of the games this season. Before Sharks' center Marcel Goc sustained an injury, the "third" line for San Jose had been together for a couple of weeks as well with Goc centering Cheechoo and Grier.

This type of chemistry has been able to keep the Sharks at the top of the western conference standings all season long. Set lines for more than a week is something new to Sharks fans who were used to Ron Wilson's juggling.

Its easiest to see when you look at all the top-line combinations Wilson used since Joe Thornton became a Shark.

1. Thornton(Scott)-Thornton-Cheechoo

2. Ekman-Thornton-Cheechoo

3. Smith-Thornton-Cheechoo

4. Marleau-Thornton-Cheechoo

5. Clowe-Thornton-Cheechoo

6. Marleau-Thornton-Clowe

7. Michalek-Thornton-Clowe

8. Michalek-Thornton-Cheechoo

Before the Sharks' most recent game against the Oilers, the only significant top-line combination for the Sharks this season was the Marleau-Thornton-Setoguchi group. And when players start to get back healthy for the Sharks, that trio along with the "second" line of Michalek-Pavelski-Clowe will once again become the most dominant top two scoring lines of any team in the NHL.

There is a different vibe and different attitude under Todd McLellan.

McLellan has let his players build their own chemistry even if certain players were struggling. Most recently, the only argument from fans was that back-up goal-tender Brian Boucher should start against Edmonton after Nabokov's recent struggles. However, the Sharks coach stuck with his No. 1 goalie and Nabokov proved to his coach that he could bounce back.

This different vibe under McLellan was best summed up by Sharks forward Ryane Clowe who was recently quoted in Mark Emmons' column for the Mercury News. When talking about his line, Clowe stated, "That's the difference this year, lines stay together and you get a chance to find that chemistry."