The San Jose Sharks may be sitting pretty at 10-1-2, but only three points stand between them and fourth place in the outstanding Pacific Division. They’ll take on the Phoenix Coyotes tonight, and this is a chance for both teams to make a statement against a divisional foe.
These contests amount to four-point games if you can win them in regulation, and a victory tonight would put the Sharks four points ahead of the third-place desert dogs. Heading into this matchup, Phoenix is among the hottest teams in the NHL with three consecutive victories.
San Jose will be getting healthy just in the nick of time then.
Dan Boyle said that he’s ready to play yesterday and only needs clearance from the medical staff to hit the ice. Matthew Nieto is set to return after missing two games with an injury to his hand, while Martin Havlat made his season debut on Wednesday against the L.A. Kings.
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) November 2, 2013
With an abundance of forwards suddenly, coach Todd McLellan sees an opportunity to spread the scoring wealth among his top three lines. David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News broke down the potential line changes after the Sharks practice on Friday:
With Nieto back on the third line with Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels, McLellan shuffled his top two lines Friday. Marty Havlat was skating with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau while Tyler Kennedy was skating alongside Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl.
While Pollak stressed in his column that McLellan didn’t commit to these lines for the contest against Phoenix, the logic behind each trio is clear.
Kennedy needs to get his game going, and skating with Thornton and Hertl could accomplish that goal. That top line has been missing an energy component since Brent Burns went down with an injury and just hasn’t looked as dynamic since. Perhaps Kennedy can inject some of that hustle and provide physicality in the corners.
Havlat going to a line with Marleau and Couture has hockey sense and speed written all over it, and could be tough to match up against following the size on the top line. Pavelski has done a ton of heavy lifting on the third line so far this season, and Nieto was just starting to get his confidence prior to the injury.
Tack on Wingels, and there are three smart players that can shoot or distribute on that line. All three of those groups can dominate when matched up against the correct line for the Coyotes. The likes of Paul Bissonnette, Brandon Yip and Rob Klinkhammer populate the bottom-six for Pheonix, and while strong players in their own right, could find themselves badly outmatched by any of those top three lines.
San Jose has to continue to work hard and battle for lose pucks. Nothing is going to come easy tonight regardless of matchups, but you have to like how the Sharks are coming together on paper.