San Jose Sharks: Adapting to Adversity Is Increasing Chemistry
When the San Jose Sharks take on the Nashville Predators tonight, they will be without forwards Devin Setoguchi and Brad Staubitz.
Setoguchi is day-to-day after tweaking the same lower body injury that kept him out of the lineup for about two weeks from Oct. 24 to Nov. 10, and Staubitz will be monitored carefully after taking a puck to the face in Monday's optional practice.
What does this mean for the league-leading Sharks? It means three forwards from Worcester have been recalled to play on the fourth line in tonight's game against the Preds.
Along with Logan Couture, who was sent down and called back up between Sunday's game in Chicago and tonight's game in Nashville, forwards Frazer McLaren and Benn Ferriero have also been recalled.
Now, if similar injuries had caused an entire line to be called up from the AHL last season, Sharks fans would have had a right to worry. Forwards like Tomas Plihal, Lukas Kaspar, and Tom Cavanagh didn't exactly put Sharks fans at ease when they got their shot a year ago.
However, fans have already seen quality play at the NHL level from all three of the forwards called up for tonight's game.
Ferriero performed admirably in 17 games before being sent back to Worcester, showing the flexibility to play on the second, third, and fourth lines. McLaren has played in just four games with the Sharks so far this season, but he had an impressive fight in the home opener against Columbus and his physical play along the boards was remarkable.
And Couture, a former first-round pick, scored his first NHL career goal that put the team up 1-0 against Detroit.
Sharks fans should look for this line to cause the Nashville defense some trouble down low with their size and speed.
But the injuries sustained over the last few days have given the Sharks much more than just a brand new fourth line combination.
With Setoguchi out of the lineup, three players in particular are moving up to a line where they have already demonstrated chemistry this season.
Ryane Clowe jumps back up to the first line with Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley, a combination that proved to be quite successful for a short stretch of games during Setoguchi's absence.
Taking Clowe's spot on the second line is Manny Malhotra, who once again joins up with Patrick Marleau. When Pavelski was hurt for 15 of the Sharks' 22 games, Malhotra and Marleau proved to be a dynamic duo no matter who was on the right side of their line.
Setoguchi and Ferriero both saw time alongside Marleau and Malhotra, so Joe Pavelski being in the mix shouldn't mean anything different.
Since Malhotra is bumped up to second line duty, the third line that had become a superb trio of veterans including Scott Nichol and Jed Ortmeyer has been broken up.
However, taking over Malhotra's spot on the left wing of that line will be none other than Jamie McGinn, whose majority of success this season has come from that spot.
When Malhotra was playing up on the second line earlier in the year, the combination of McGinn-Nichol-Ortmeyer was performing just as well, if not better, than the Malhotra-Nichol-Ortmeyer trio.
Granted no team wants to see any of their players hurt, but having to adapt and change up the lines has allowed Sharks head coach Todd McLellan to see what different combinations work well together.
In order to understand the benefit of multiple combinations that already have proven chemistry, it is important to look at a healthy Sharks lineup and how it can adapt to various injuries.
If healthy, (minus Torrey Mitchell who hasn't played in a regular season game in over a year) the Sharks forward lines look as follows:
But what if, say, Pavelski suffers an injury? The Sharks don't have to fret. The alteration has two simple scenarios.
Scenario One: Top line remains the same, and the following changes occur:
Malhotra-Marleau-Clowe becomes the second line, McGinn-Nichol-Ortmeyer becomes the third line, and McLaren-Couture-Staubitz becomes the fourth line. Now whether Shelley, Vesce, Ferriero, or McLaren take over the left-wing on the fourth line isn't vital.
The important thing for the Sharks is that the second and third lines still have chemistry out on the ice.
Scenario Two: With Pavelski out, McLellan may decide to flip-flop Setoguchi and Clowe.
This move would create lines of Heatley-Thornton-Clowe, Malhotra-Marleau-Setoguchi, McGinn-Nichol-Ortmeyer, McLaren-Couture-Staubitz.
Now what if Setoguchi and Staubitz are out with injury? Well, since tonight's game will have both right-wingers out of action, the following adaptations will take place:
With this lineup, the top three lines still have a clear chemistry despite not being the normal groupings.
Plus, if the Sharks come out slow, McLellan could always bump Ferriero up to the second-line alongside Marleau and Pavelski. He would then drop Malhotra back down to his familiar spot on the third line with Nichol and Ortmeyer and subsequently put the more experienced McGinn down on the fourth line to give the group some extra physicality.
The benefit of multiple players having chemistry with various linemates will allow McLellan extra flexibility which will be especially valuable come playoff time.
Unlike last season where the top two lines of Marleau-Thornton-Setoguchi and Michalek-Pavelski-Clowe were almost entirely set in stone for the majority of the season, the Sharks now don't have to worry as much about injuries.
If anyone of the top-six were to have gone down with an injury last year or if the lines got stale, there wasn't a clear Plan B to get the scoring lines going.
Since the top-six from last season were relatively healthy, the lines hardly ever changed.
But when it came to the end of the regular season and playoffs last year, injuries and poor play saw the top two lines have a huge drop-off in production.
The problem was that McLellan didn't have any other options. Was Mike Grier, Travis Moen, or a 39-year-old Jeremy Roenick going to jump up to top line duty and change anything?
Neither Grier nor Moen had the skill level to play on the top two scoring lines, and although Roenick had the skill, he was simply just too beat up to play a full game as part of a scoring trio.
Fortunately for McLellan and the Sharks, the injury bug has hit in the beginning of the year this season as opposed to right before the playoffs.
Consequently, even though the season is less than two months old, the Sharks already have numerous line combinations that work well together.
This ability to adapt without some of their top-tier players has given San Jose an advantage most teams don't have. Most teams with significant injuries have struggled to start the season but the Sharks continue to look like they never miss a beat despite missing someone from their lineup.
Granted no coach will say injuries help their team in the short run, but coaches will always say it allows them to try different combinations and get extended looks at younger players.
In the case of the Sharks, those different combinations and younger players are allowing them to flourish in the face of adversity.
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