The San Jose Sharks Have Weapons—Todd McLellan Needs to Use Them

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer IOctober 24, 2009

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 19: The San Jose Sharks surround Devin Setoguchi #16 after his first of two second period goals against Steve Valiquette #40 of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on October 19, 2009 in New York, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The San Jose Sharks are not going to repeat as President's Trophy Champions and if you asked any one of their 23 players, not a single one would mention that they're bothered by that fact.

After cruising to a 23-3-2 start last season, a much better all-around Sharks team essentially backed into winning the trophy awarded to the club with the best record in the regular season. In fact, on the night they clinched the award, the Sharks lost. A losing effort by the "runner-up" Boston Bruins gave the Sharks home-ice throughout the playoffs.

Too bad San Jose lasted just a single round in last year's playoff.

Not only did they lose in the first round, but the sought after home-ice "advantage" didn't fare them very well as they lost two of out the three playoff games inside HP Pavilion.

Now so far this season, the Sharks have already lost four regulation games through their first ten games, something San Jose prevented from happening last season until January sixth.

If I check the calendar correctly, the NHL season is not even out of October.

Does that mean that this year's Sharks team has less of a chance at post-season success than last year?

No, absolutely not. Since the calendar has yet to even flip over to November, making projections on any teams playoff prospects is not only difficult, its darn near impossible.

The Sharks have two productive forwards out with injury right now in Joe Pavelski and Torrey Mitchell, and the Boston Bruins are without Marc Savard and Milan Lucic.

Not to mention the Detroit Red Wings are without Johan Franzen, and the Chicago Blackhawks are without Marian Hossa.

Nobody can predict how many more injuries are in store for the season and nobody can predict how much of a boost injured players will be able to give their respective clubs when they get back on the ice.

However, with a Sharks team that is noticeably weaker defensively this season, there is something fans can predict taking place.

If the Sharks' potentially potent offense doesn't start carrying the team, the mediocre defense will end up becoming more and more of a problem.

Currently neither Rob Blake, Kent Huskins, Douglas Murray nor rookie Jason Demers are playing up to their capabilities.

Blake is a year older and it has been showing big time this season as the first-year Sharks captain has registered just three points and a negative-6 plus/minus rating.

Douglas Murray has been having to handle a larger role with the absence of Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich and so far there has been a learning curve with the extra responsibility.

Murray has seen a lot more of the top players from the opposition and his negative-two plus/minus rating doesn't put fans at ease. Murray is anything but an offensive force from the blue-line and his main efforts are shutting down the opposition with a physical presence.

Kent Huskins and Jason Demers ironically have the best plus/minus marks of the entire Sharks defensive corps, posting a ridiculously high plus-10 between them. But both players leave much to be desired with their defensive play so far this season.

Huskins is often caught out of position and Demers routinely looks exactly like what rookie defenders typically look like in the NHL, dazed and confused.

If this current group of defenders is going to be the main group come playoff time, then the Sharks have a lot of work to do on their back end. If the current performance of the defense showed up during the playoffs, the Sharks would be lucky to win a game in the postseason.

Therefore, in order to start turning things around in the present, the Sharks offense needs to start carrying the team while the new mix of defenders works on fixing the kinks in their play.

But in order for that to happen, head coach Todd McLellan needs to stop messing around with his power-play and put out his best weapons.

Throughout this first month of the season, McLellan has been experimenting with Demers playing point opposite Dan Boyle on the top unit.

The power-play time has benefited Demers who already has picked up eight assists on the season but in hind-sight his offensive abilities have been meek at best. Four of his assists were secondary helpers, and two of his primary assists were goals scored on incredible individual plays by Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley.

Why the rookie defenseman (who should be focusing on his defensive skills) started out on the number one power play unit on a Sharks team with weapons galore is a question many fans have trouble answering.

But not only has Demers been on the top power-play unit but so has the slumping Ryane Clowe and rookie forward Ryan Vesce at times.

Granted Pavelski is out of the lineup but the Sharks still have plenty of weapons to use on the power-play including Heatley who had been taken off the top unit for a couple games. With Marleau in his place, the Sharks had a bit more success. However, Heatley's skill set needs time to create chemistry and the Sharks need him on the top unit as much as possible or the Sharks will lose some of the production he provides.

In about the last game-and-a-half, McLellan has finally come to his senses and taken Demers off the power-play and replaced him with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. With the left-handed Vlasic and right-handed Boyle manning the points, the passing on the man-advantage has seemed much more crisp.

If McLellan wants to keep the power-play working, he has to start letting his big guns be his big guns and Vlasic has developed into one of those guns. "Pickles" has been known as primarily a defensive defenseman since his rookie year, but the Brian Campbell-esque offensive skills have clearly started to develop.

With Boyle and Vlasic at the point, the top power-play unit ought to be the following five: Heatley, Thornton, Setoguchi, Boyle, Vlasic.

Therefore a secondary power-play unit (when healthy) could develop into the following five: Mitchell, Pavelski, Clowe, Marleau, Blake.

To be fair, McLellan doesn't have the ability to go with this proposed secondary unit since Pavelski and Mitchell are still out. However, the top unit should be the top unit all season long.

When Pavelski is healthy, the top line of Heatley-Thornton-Setoguchi will reunite and allowing them to play as a trio on the power-play will allow them to build their chemistry much quicker. Not to mention having Setoguchi on the top power-play unit instead of Marleau allows for an extra right-handed shot to be on the ice instead of three left-handed shooting forwards.

If McLellan starts to let his skill players do what they do best, the offense will start to click but continually juggling the power-play unit with players who don't belong and players who do belong sitting on the bench, the offensive production has been inconsistent at best.

With the defense struggling to find the cohesiveness they had last season, the offense needs to carry the load in the first couple months of the season.

But the offense can't do that when the lines haven't been given time to gel. The Sharks have plenty of offensive weapons and it is time McLellan starts letting them do what they do best: dominate on the man-advantage.


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