2011-12 San Jose Sharks: Line Changes To End Slump
In my last article detailing the shake-up needed for the San Jose Sharks, I laid the foundation that the first step should not be a drastic one. The Sharks need to adjust playing time and line combinations to see if they can get more out of this roster before making changes to it, behind the bench or in the front office.
Todd McLellan is already doing this, but needs to settle on combinations and give them long enough to work or fail. I suggest these combinations should be more mindful of players complimenting one another's skill sets over merely rewarding players for solid play.
To that end, I have divided the forwards so that each fits into two groups. They either rely more on size or skating (though most actually are above average in both) or passing or shooting.
Skaters: Patrick Marleau, Martin Havlat, Torrey Mitchell, Andrew Murray, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski. I would also put occasional starter Benn Ferriero more in this category than the one based on power.
Size: Ryane Clowe, Brad Winchester, Michal Handzus, Jamie McGinn, Joe Thornton, Andrew Desjardins and Frazer McLaren.
This gives the Sharks seven of each category, a great balance. Each line must have at least one from each.
There are only four forwards who are clearly better at passing than shooting: Thornton, Havlat, Clowe and Handzus. Therefore, one must be on each line to feed the shooters.
Ideally, you want at least one right-handed shot on each line. However, only Pavelski, Mitchell and Ferriero are right-handed.
The blue line is similar. Dan Boyle, Jason Demers and Justin Braun are more offensively-oriented and rely mostly on their skating and/or puck-moving skills.
By contrast, Douglas Murray, Colin White and Jim Vandermeer rely more on their size and are stay-at-home defensemen. Brent Burns has great size but is not stay-at-home, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic is a skater who is defense-first.
With four big players and four skaters, four defensive-oriented and four offensive-minded players, you want a balance on each pair. Since Burns, Boyle, Demers and Braun are right-handed, the team can have one of each on all pairings, too.
With that in mind, here are my suggested lines and pairs...
Top Line: McGinn, Thornton, Pavelski
Jamie McGinn is showing the abilities that made the Sharks draft him 36th overall in 2006.
With five of the Sharks' 17 goals in the last seven games, he deserves a promotion to the top line. He provides the Sharks a big body who can skate well on the top line, works hard on both ends of the ice and finishes.
Joe Pavelski may have gone cold, but he works well with playmaker Joe Thornton because of his top-tier hockey IQ. He provides the line a right-handed shot and a secondary faceoff option.
Thornton may not be playing great offensively, but is still playing great defense and his size allows him to control the puck under pressure. As the team's captain, he either must lead the team out of this wilderness or be replaced—until Doug Wilson is ready to do the latter, Todd McLellan must trust Joe to center the top line.
These three could stay together on the power play or McGinn could be replaced with Patrick Marleau because of the chemistry he has with the Joes. Chances are, Marleau would be more effective, and the team would want to make up some of his lost ice time from the demotion.
2nd Line: Clowe, Couture, Mitchell
Torrey Mitchell's seven points do not tell the story of how well he is playing.
For one, he has been used mostly on the third line and has lacked scoring opportunities. For another, his skating has opened up scoring chances that either he or his linemates have been unable to finish.
I used to refer to him as Dan Jansen—a great skater who could not finish. But he has earned time on the second line over Martin Havlat, and provides it without diminishing its speed or defensive prowess. He also adds a second option in the faceoff circle and puts a right-handed shot on the second line.
Havlat should replace him on the power play, using his set-up skills to enable Ryane Clowe to be the big body in front of the net to get goals in traffic. During even-strength, Clowe can play the role Thornton does on the first line—a big body to control and dish the puck.
Logan Couture also has a rapport with Clowe good enough to keep them together. He has the ability to find space and finish the other two lack.
Checking Line: Marleau-Handzus-Winchester
Brad Winchester has the kind of hustle the team lacks as a whole and deserves more playing time.
He has speed but mostly adds the monstrous size to park in front of the net and forecheck with ferocity. He also can score a bit, with three goals and three assists primarily on the fourth line.
Michal Handzus is also a sizable player, but more apt to play Thornton's role of the guy to control the puck behind the net and look for teammates. That gives Patrick Marleau, still one of the best skaters in the league, someone to get him the puck in space and someone to clean up rebounds or blocks.
All three of these players are great defensively and would be good candidates for the penalty kill. Pairing Marleau and Handzus would give the Sharks two players for faceoffs and a combination of size and speed.
4th Line: Havlat, Desjardins, Ferriero
The Sharks need more scoring. One of the few tweaks they could make to the current active roster is to promote Benn Ferriero, and since Andrew Murray is not excelling on the penalty kill, his checking would not be missed on a line that plays fewer than 10 shifts in most games.
Ferriero provides this line a right-handed shot and, along with a talented Andrew Desjardins, two guys for Martin Havlat to feed. The demotion should shake up Marty and at the same time give the Sharks a fourth line they can get goals from.
Havlat can also team up with the player who replaced him on the second line, Torrey Mitchell, to be one of the penalty-killing forward combinations. Both have speed and play great defense.
On occasion, the Sharks can go with seven defensemen and either play Jason Demers on the blue line or as the fourth-line right winger, scratching either natural centres Desjardins or Ferriero. Or if the team needs grit, they can put in Murray or Frazer McLaren.
1st Pair: Boyle, Murray
The Sharks are hurting without Douglas Murray in the lineup. He is the only truly physical player on the blue line who is not a liability on the attack.
He also pairs too well with Dan Boyle to break them up, even though the unit has been horribly disappointing thus far. Perhaps the changes Boyle made to his stick-length are starting to pay off, with a goal and three assists in four games.
While Murray remains out, one would have to put Marc-Edouard Vlasic with him so the team has one elite pair.
On the penalty kill, Boyle's skating and puck-moving are essential, and he can handle the minutes. Leave the two (Boyle and either Vlasic or Murray once he has returned) together.
But on the power play, Boyle should not be paired with Burns. While four of the Sharks' five potential players on the point share the same characteristics—offensive-minded right-handed shots—at least pairing the veteran with either Justin Braun or Jason Demers splits up the best power-play quarterbacks.
2nd Pair: Burns, Vlasic
While every other player on this unit has been at least a little disappointing, Marc-Edouard Vlasic has exceeded expectations on both ends of the ice. He is second on the unit in scoring and leads the team in plus-minus.
He has to be on the ice as much as possible. Combining his defensive responsibility with Burns or Boyle's penchant for pinching makes sense. When coupled with Burns' size, this pair should be the best the team has if the newcomer can recapture the level he played at in Minnesota.
If both Braun and Demers are dressed, the reality is they offer more offensive skills despite their lower point production and they should be on the ice for the power play. If one of them is out, Vlasic should always be paired with Burns when the team has the man-advantage because they are as complimentary as any two but Burns and Murray.
3rd Pair: Braun, Vandermeer
One of the main assets the Sharks came into the season with was having two stout third pairs. There are two puck-moving, offensive-minded young players and two physical, stay-at-home veterans for perfect balance.
However, Justin Braun and Jim Vandermeer are outplaying Jason Demers and Colin White, respectively, on both ends of the ice. They need to be out there once Vandermeer and Douglas Murray are healthy.
If that means demoting Demers to the minors, so be it. White can be scratched without any risk of losing him or having the lack of playing time affecting his readiness or development.