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Patrick Marleau to center as Sharks’ McLellan shuffles lines to create space in Game 4

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AP

Hoping to kick-start his 5-on-5 attack after the San Jose Sharks came within four minutes of going two hours without an even-strength goal in two consecutive losses, coach Todd McLellan has shuffled his lines heading into Thursday's Game 4.

The most notable shift: Patrick Marleau comes off Joe Thornton's wing and lands in the middle of the second line.

It's a demotion. With the Blues' stifling defensive system, Marleau needs to make a difference by opening up space through the neutral zone with his elite speed, but he's been unable to do so thus far. Through the series' first three games, he's pointless, with just five shots on goal. He was especially ineffective in the Sharks' 3-0 shutout loss in Game 2 in which he couldn't muster a single shot.

But, while it's a demotion, it's a demotion into more responsibility (like Matt Leblanc getting his own sitcom).

The Blues have done a great job of keeping Marleau along the wall, a task in which Marleau has been far too compliant. The move to the middle of the ice should change that. It engages him by demanding more of him on both ends of the ice, and it pries him away from the walls before the Blues can pin him there. From David Pollak of Working the Corners:

In explaining the possible move Wednesday, McLellan said that at center, Marleau uses his size and speed over the entire rink, not the one-third he has a tendency to limit himself to as a wing (That's a ding, right?).

Marleau said this morning that he understood what his coach was saying and acknowledged the move will probably open up more of the ice to him.

"You're moving a lot more as opposed to standing at the boards," he said. "I like it that way. You definitely feel like you're in the play the whole time."

Marleau's wings will be Martin Havlat and Ryane Clowe, and Sharks fans should call this trio the final frontier, because they are all about space. The Blues don't allow much of it, so McLellan has built a combination he hopes will create it. Havlat and Marleau could open the Blues up with the speed, especially if Ryane Clowe can blaze a trail or two with his size.

A strong performance from this line is key in a crucial Game 4. While it may not be a true must-win for the Sharks, the 3-1 hole would be a difficult one to crawl out of, especially if the Blues head back to St. Louis riding high after three straight wins.

Follow Harrison Mooney on Twitter at @HarrisonMooney

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