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Sharks Gameday: Second Line City

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16-25-5, 37 points 30-10-8, 68 points
15th in Western Conference
2nd in Western Conference
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Copper & Blue
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Afternoon game today, and since I'm writing this in the morning before getting on with my day it may end up being a bit rushed. However, one thing I'm planning on doing from here on out is to focus the entire gameday piece on the second line until they finally score a goal. Whether it's beating a dead horse, a desperate plea for production, or a way to hopefully shift the tides of karmic imbalance that has currently thrown the trio under the waves of 2010, it's something that needs to be done.

Leading up to the Boston Bruins game on Thursday night, the second line had done a better job of moving their feet in the offensive zone and drawing penalties-- I don't have the numbers in front of me right now, but I'd venture a guess and say they were averaging one per game in the last three. That's a sign that things may be turning around, and coupled with the scoring opportunities that were starting to pick up, probably meant it was too early to start calling for the heads of those involved.

Against Boston however, the second line lost the momentum from the last couple games and turned in an effort that, while not porous considering Tim Thomas was excellent throughout, wasn't up to the standards they should be held accountable to. I thought Joe Pavelski (who has been the better of the three this season, obviously) had the worst game out of the trio. He was getting bodied off the puck along the sidewall, had a lot of trouble connecting on his passes, and generally looked lost in the offensive zone. Clowe was fulfilling his job down low protecting the puck, and the much-maligned Devin Setoguchi was actively skating between the circles (along with nearly putting one past Thomas, whose brilliant stick-work in tight managed to keep the puck out of the net). Pavelski has escaped criticism from the majority of the fanbase lately (myself definitely included), and I think that's a mistake when you look at that line as currently constructed-- Clowe's an average skater at best who is nonetheless an asset physically (when he wants to be), and Setoguchi, while possessing some lateral skating chops, obviously needs a set-up man if he wants to ever eclipse the 30 goal mark again in his career. Just like the first line runs through Joe Thornton's playmaking ability most nights*, and successful lines throughout the league have a pivot who is consistently involved in all aspects of the game, San Jose's second line is reliant on Pavelski to create scoring opportunities for everyone else.

*You could make the case Marleau's dynamic puck-carrying ability plays a large part in that, but without Thornton on that line Patty probably gets a helluva lot less space to work with.

In response to a combined stat line that reads 0 goals, 2 assists (both from Clowe), and -13 since the ball dropped signaling the end of the year 2009, McLellan shook things up yesterday at practice. Via David Pollak of Working The Corners:

...with the lack of secondary scoring, you had to figure something was coming. And to me, the question has been if or when McLellan would break up his big line, the one that’s doing all the scoring, in order to spread the top talent throughout the lineup.

Well, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley skated together at practice today, but there were changes. Without further ado:

Malhotra-Pavelski-Setoguchi

Clowe-Nichol-Ortmeyer

Again, McLellan went out of his way to say this wasn’t a sure thing. And, I’m guessing here, there could be a Worcester call-up that changes the dynamic.

>> Working The Corners

While I'm still convinced that breaking up the first line is the best route to take to improve the anemic secondary scoring output, haven't changed my opinion from day one that Jamie McGinn should be on this roster, and am worried about the lack of practice time those riding the Worcester Shuttle have experienced thus far this season, I'm not deathly opposed to this lineup. It's not the best solution in my opinion, but since management doesn't seem to agree that Frazer McLaren is the best fit on the fourth line, I've decided to take what's given to me and be happy until the Olympic break.

One thing that this does highlight, however, is the statement that McLellan made earlier in the year concerning working your way up the lineup. He vehemently asserted that ice time would be based off long-term results, and yet Manny Malhotra, a mere one game after coming back from injury, is now (possibly) skating with the second line. Don't get me wrong, he looked good against Boston and played very well with the second line a month ago, but there were no tangible numbers Thursday (read: results) that indicate he is "worthy" of this spot based off the terms outlined by management at the beginning of the season. It ties hand in hand with Jamie McGinn and Frazer McLaren, a situation where on-ice performance means less than their salary cap hit, and I think pretending that the powers that be are truly running a tight ship based solely off the recent nominal results an individual player has provided is wishful thinking at it's finest. Maybe it's a case where a move is being made because the second line isn't producing (lack of results vs. actual results), but in that case, I would think Setoguchi would be the one being demoted.

Once again, I'm not opposed to Malhotra on the second line for the time being-- there's better options out there in my opinion, but those options aren't going to be considered by the staff, and therefore you have a scenario in which you're making the best out of what you've already decided.

Ya know what, I don't even care. Just get me some secondary scoring and I'll be happy.

Prediction: Sharks win 7-1. Goals by Pavelski (x2), Setoguchi (x2), Clowe (x2), and Malhotra. I try and figure out why I'm so mad despite the fact that the Sharks are tied for first in the division, Oilers fans think I'm a fucking head case, and McLellan doesn't give a shit what a lowly blogger thinks because he's the one who deals with these guys on a day to day basis. Touche.

 

Go Sharks.