“Necessity… is the mother of invention.”
About two minutes into their meeting with the Eastern Conference powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins, it was apparent that the Sharks had better change something, and quick. They were already down 2-0, and perhaps even more concerning was how slow, disinterested, and sloppy they looked.
Greiss made a few key saves right away and effectively stopped the bleeding. But after the horn sounded to end the first period, the Sharks still hadn’t really gotten back into the game. They were outshot 15-4 in the opening frame, and were a bit lucky the deficit hadn’t grown past two.
More changes were needed. And McClellan obliged.
Starting from the drop of the puck in the 2nd period, San Jose’s forwards were being shuffled around constantly by a coaching staff desperately searching for a spark.
By the end of the period, it seemed to be working. Even though both teams scored once and San Jose was still looking up at a two goal deficit, the shot total for the game had been evened and the Sharks looked like the better team on the ice. A two goal third period and a successful Ryane Clowe shootout bid later, and San Jose had somehow managed to pry two points out of a game that had appeared headed for disaster.
But perhaps more importantly, at least as far as the 82 game season is concerned, is that there were a few new line combos that really showed some promise.
Here’s a breakdown of where that would leave the top six:
1st Line: Couture-Thornton-Pavelski
I love this line. It has an insane hockey IQ, a world class passer and two big time finishers. On the other side of the puck, Thornton’s renaissance as a defensive stalwart along with Couture’s tenacious forechecking and Pavelski’s above average positional play would be enough to match top lines with almost any team in the NHL. Now, I know some of the logic of putting Marleau on the top line was to balance the team’s speed, but I prefer lines that have more of a unique identity anyway. A line of Couture, Thornton and Pavelski would feature great passing, positioning and hockey IQ, the combination of which would be more than enough to overcome its fairly average speed.
Which, in turn, would inform the identity of a new look second line as well…
2nd Line: Clowe-Marleau-Havlat
I really liked watching this line when they got the chance to play together, and would liked to have seen them take a few more shifts. Obviously, Clowe’s skating isn’t on par with Marleau and Havlat. But two guys with that kind of speed on a line together will create significant match-up problems for opponents, and Clowe can do a lot of things that compliment highly skilled players. He’s a phenomenal puck retriever, is perfectly at home doing the dirty work in front of the net, and is certainly an above average passer as far as power forwards go. It’s somewhat unconventional in make-up, but I’d really love to see this line given a chance to develop some chemistry.
Now, again acknowledging that I really like lines with unique identities and significant strengths, I’d also love to see Mitchell get a look up with Marleau and Havlat sometime down the road. This would result in a second line with outrageous speed, and a third line featuring Handzus and Clowe that would play an awfully good cycle/puck possession game (and would feature the Sharks’ two most bruising forwards in Clowe and McGinn as well).
But for now, I’d be content to see the Sharks six best forwards continue to occupy the top six spots. Especially since DominationNoBreathing (that’s right, my fantasy hockey team name is a Papa Roach reference, second in brilliance only to this) would benefit greatly from Clowe continuing to get second line minutes and second line power play time. But I digress.
It’s a bit tough to get a read on exactly what McClellan is thinking since Pavelski missed practice with the flu, but David Pollak reported that the line combos at today’s practice were neither the team’s familiar line-up nor the suggested above, but rather:
Personally, even though I’ve been pleasantly surprised by his stellar defensive play, I don’t like seeing Havlat on the third line because I think he’s too dynamic an offensive player to be playing limited minutes and without offensively gifted players around him.
What line combos would you like to see San Jose go with tonight against Nashville?
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