San Jose Sharks: Juggling of Bottom-Six Forwards is Paying Off

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer IOctober 20, 2009

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 19: Brad Staubitz #59 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates his first goal of the season against the New York Rangers and is joined by Scott Nichol #21 at Madison Square Garden on October 19, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Going into Monday's game against the New York Rangers, the San Jose Sharks weren't exactly on the top of their game and it showed early in the first period.

San Jose fell behind by a 2-0 deficit in just a span of 1:17 during the first ten minutes of action.

However, it was Brad Staubitz's first goal of the season and second of his career that ignited the Sharks to six unanswered goals in a row.

Simply by moving his feet and creating a turnover in the neutral zone, the rookie enforcer pounced on the puck and entered the Ranger zone two-on-one with line-mate Scott Nichol. Using his center as a decoy, Staubitz ripped a hard wrist shot low past backup net-minder Stephen Valiquette's glove to cut the lead in half.

From there on out, Monday's game was essentially all Sharks. Two of the Sharks' big guns: Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi, produced three point games. Marleau registered a goal and two assists, feeding Setoguchi both times. "Seto" also added an assist on Marleau's tally late in third.

The other big guns also got on the scoreboard as Dany Heatley ended his three game pointless streak with a goal and an assist and "Jumbo" Joe Thornton added a helper as well.

But we knew these guys were going to score. Thornton, Heatley, Marleau, Setoguchi, Clowe and even the injured Pavelski are all going to get their points.

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What we didn't know is whether or not the bottom two lines could chip in when needed.

Although it is still early in the season, last night's game gave signs that this year's group of forwards 7-17 do have what it takes.

Now notice I didn't say forwards 7-12 which would make up the entirety of the bottom two lines in any given game.

The Sharks appear to have the depth that they didn't necessarily seem to have at the beginning of the season. Prior to the start of the campaign, fans weren't sure what players like Jed Ortmeyer, Manny Malhotra, Frazer McLaren and the rest of the group could bring to the table night in and night out.

Being able to judge the team nine games into the season, it is clear that the rotation of the bottom group of forwards is working and there is a particular reason for their success.

Unlike years past where players like Marcel Goc, Mike Grier, Travis Moen, Curtis Brown, Patrick Rissmiller and others who could not be sent back and forth from the minors because of experience, this year's group includes a plethora of youngsters eager to prove themselves.

Players like Jamie McGinn, Ryan Vesce, Frazer McLaren, Brad Staubitz, and Steven Zalewski are all main stays from last year's Worcester team that are fighting to prove they belong in the NHL.

Coincidentally, the reason this group of bottom eleven forwards are contributing is simply because they have to. Whichever six of the 11 play in a particular game, they have to put out their best effort on the ice. If they don't, they could be sent down to the minors or in the case of the veterans, they could be scratched for the next game.

So far, the extra pressure to perform has paid off. This was most evidently in the Ranger's contest where Ryane Vesce and Jed Ortmeyer joined Staubitz as unexpected goal scorers.

During the 7-3 victory in which Marleau and Setoguchi paced the offense, San Jose also managed three goals from their bottom group of forwards? Talk about spreading the wealth, something that rarely happened with the roster from a year ago.

Last season, the Sharks never saw a game where Roenick, Goc and Grier all scored.

But this season, they have already seen their lesser known forwards contribute. And with the added pressure for them to perform, the Sharks are going to benefit in the long run.

If you were to put forth a forward depth chart for the Sharks that ranged from forward numbers 7-17, it would look like the following:

7. Torrey Mitchell

8. Manny Malhotra

9. Scott Nichol

10. Jed Ortmeyer

11. Benn Ferriero

12. Jody Shelley

13. Brad Staubitz

14. Jamie McGinn

15. Ryan Vesce

16. Frazer McLaren

17 Steven Zalewski

If Torrey Mitchell can finally get over his latest injury issue with the tendinitis in his left knee, then the Sharks' bottom forward group will become that much better. But even without Mitchell, the bottom group of forwards are loaded with talent, grit and drive.

With the coaching staff rotating this bottom group of forwards, an inherent competition has developed amongst the players. The unofficial competition for playing time will give the Sharks numerous advantages.

First of which is that come playoff time, the forwards playing the best hockey will be in the lineup.

Secondly, those who make the lineup for the opening playoff game will be fresh because they won't have played an entire season at the NHL level.

And finally, if any injuries occur late in the season or in the playoffs, the coaching staff will know exactly what the replacement forwards bring to the table and can easily evaluate which player should be inserted to the lineup given the style of game they want to play.

Just as the saying goes: Competition makes everyone better.

Therefore, with the bottom group of forwards competing all season long for playing time, the Sharks will be better off for it.

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