San Jose Sharks: 10 Line Changes to Spark Scoring
In his fourth year as head coach with the San Jose Sharks, there is little Todd McLellan can do to affect this team. It is one of the reasons I suggested firing him if things do not turn around this week.
As the adage goes, it is easier to fire the coach than the players.
More to the point, the Sharks cannot change their available pool of players anymore this season. That ties McLellan's hands even more than the lack of practice time or fatigue from playing so frequently.
This is a veteran team. If they are no longer listening to McLellan, it is unlikely any new approach would change that.
(Since they also appeared to lack motivation under the last coach, Ron Wilson, the problem is likely the players. Does anyone else think a return by him as interim coach is possible? The sides split on good terms and his no-nonsense, defensive zone responsibility fits better with this team.)
But there are a few things he can do to alter this team's direction over the next 36 hours in Alberta, Canada. How he uses his personnel might save his job and even the season.
Right now, the Sharks top problem is a lack of scoring. They have just seven goals in their last six games (1.17 GSA) and 21 in their last 12 (1.75). McLellan needs to focus on improving the attack.
Because you do not change your system at this late hour, that leaves the team's approach and how he manages his roster.
The approach has improved. The team is doing what it does as well as any other team—winning faceoffs, getting pucks to the net and continuing to block shots. They are also laying more hits without taking too many trips to the penalty box and expose their biggest weakness—the penalty kill.
Massaging everything possible out of this roster he has is the biggest way McLellan can effect the outcome of games.
If it seems I have suggested line changes on this team before, I have. But the problem persists and is worth being updated.
The assessments of how to construct the lines remains the same and thus need not be laid out again. (It should be noted that one comment on the piece questioned the classification of Pavelski, and further detail was provided in my response.)
But the personnel and performances have changed who should play where. Here are the top 10 personnel decisions he can make to increase scoring and turn the team around...
Get Martin Havlat Healthy
We can start with the obvious: Martin Havlat's return would give the San Jose Sharks a big boost.
The second-line play-maker's return would give them another fast, skilled player. But how much can the team really expect from him?
For one thing, the team is tight-lipped about his return. He is traveling with the team, but that is not always an indication a player is that close. More than likely, he return some time this month but not this week.
Then as they say, it usually takes a few games to "get your legs" after even shorter injuries. It might take a few more for him to reacclimate to players he has been on the ice with less than 10 hours in game situations, assuming he even goes to the second line.
Then again, he scored eight points in his first eight games with the team, also coming off injury. The problem was that Havlat was not a consistent player when he was healthy: He had just four points in the next 16 games.
Still, his placement on the roster will probably mean the end of Jim Vandermeer playing forward. Havlat will undoubtedly provide more scoring than him, even if he takes a while to come back, adjust and produce consistently.
At best, he brings a dozen more goals to the team. That would be huge, but even the almost certain minimum of three goals probably results in an extra point or two.
Leave Tommy Wingels in the Lineup
Tommy Wingels has played well enough on the second line to remain active for the rest of the season. He has speed, skates hard, is not afraid to put a body on someone and has the ability to score.
That makes him perfect for the third line once Martin Havlat returns. He also is rare Sharks forward who shoots right-handed.
The third line has gone through many changes. Jamie McGinn is tearing it up in Colorado while at times Torrey Mitchell has been demoted to the fourth line and Michal Handzus has been scratched.
Putting Wingels on that third line right wing gives it a scorer who offers something in his own end and can take draws. It also continues to give him ample playing time to develop and produce.
Put the Colorado Teammates Together
Right now, T.J. Galiardi and Daniel Winnik have just one point in 11 games between them. That might not warrant playing time, but the best thing is to play them.
If you make a trade, you ought to believe in it enough to give it every chance to succeed over the final six weeks of a season. This means playing them until the Sharks mathematically must win games to make the playoffs.
It also means making sure they are on the line with the only other player on this team they know well. They have not always been on the same line, and that does not make sense.
Based on the way they are playing right now, they should play the wings on the fourth line. But their talent levels and defensive prowess make them ideal third line forwards.
Just so long as they are together.
Bench Some Veterans
Todd McLellan has already chosen to bench Michal Handzus (seven goals, 16 assists in 63 games) recently. San Jose Sharks veterans Brad Winchester (six, four in 64) and Torrey Mitchell (seven, 10 in 62) are other potential scratches.
All three are on the team more for their defensive abilities than scoring. But all three have seen a little power play action, and they are also three of the four forwards with over 23 games played on the team that are in the minus.
Mitchell's speed may be indispensable against some teams, as might Winchester's size. The team also needs more of the sandpaper the Big Gun provides, so that might leave Handzus as the frequent odd-man out.
However, with the many young, hungry Sharks that offer change, McLellan should consider sitting more than one of them at times...
Play Benn Ferriero
When you are not scoring, why leave your best young scorer scratched? And why would you let a young player you do not want to use languish when he could get playing time in Worcester?
Benn Ferriero is not the most fundamentally sound defender. But the Sharks have plenty of of good defensive forwards and can cover one hole on the fourth line that plays maybe 10 shifts a night. None of the other checking line forwards are playing so well as to bar him from some ice time.
Of course, the same thing will limit his opportunity to provide scoring. But he provides a replacement if another forward sits because of injury or poor play. He also gives the team another right-handed shot.
If it works well enough, give him more playing time. If he provides too little scoring or too many mistakes in his own end, he can be sent down.
When what you are doing is not working, why not try something different? Right now, big goals are missing, and Ferriero is second on the team in game winners despite just 29 games played.
Find a Home for Dominic Moore
Since coming over in the trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning in mid-February, Dominic Moore has been a disappointment. He missed several games and has just two points and a minus-two rating in the eight he has played.
But if you are going to believe in two players you gave up one third-line player for, you should believe in anyone you traded a high second-round pick for.
Match him up with a productive Tommy Wingels and see what he can do. Continue to use him on the penalty kill and give him every chance to boost its performance.
Keep Andrew Desjardins in the Equation
While there might not be space for Andrew Desjardins, he has played well enough to warrant time on the ice.
With just 13 points in 61 games, he does not have the per game point production of Benn Ferriero—but he does play solidly in his own end.
Putting both in the lineup would mean sitting all three aforementioned veterans (three slides back). That could be an option if none of the veterans are playing well, but most often McLellan would be choosing one or the other.
Play Thomas Greiss More
Conventional wisdom says you let a struggling goalie play his way out of a slump.
Too bad. The two-time Western Conference finalist San Jose Sharks are facing not making the playoffs. It is time to play for now.
Antti Niemi and Thomas Greiss have such similar numbers it is eerie. But since back-to-back shutouts bookending the All Star break, Nemo has struggled.
In 15 appearances since then, he has just five games giving up fewer than three goals. He was pulled in two games and has a 3-8-3 record, 3.05 GAA and .894 save percentage.
With games on back-to-back nights, both goalies will get one start. Each solid game for Nemo earns him another start. If not, Greiss should get his chance in more than just the two times the Sharks have back-to-backs coming up.
Bench Colin White!
I have statistically substantiated what every Sharks observer has seen with his or her own eyes ad nauseam, and will waste no more time on it: Click on any article on my profile page and you will probably see that quantified.
Reset Top Two Pairs
I have also stated this before. But it warrants further support.
Douglas Murray and Dan Boyle not only have a chemistry from years of playing together. They compliment each other perfectly—the biggest, most physical but slowest and least skilled defender paired with the smallest, fastest and most skilled.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns are the Sharks blue line of the future, so put them together. Pickles is always in defensive position and skates well. Burns is a big man who jumps into the play because he has a booming shot and can pass.
It makes no sense to have the two biggest on one pair and the two best skaters on the other.