In the Sharks 4-2 loss last night to the New York Islanders, there were some changes and some things you don't see often. One thing that did not change, and that you have seen often, is an extremely strong game by the second line.
The Sharks got off to a terrible start, with Martin Jones letting in two goals on the first and only three shots he saw. He was pulled to try to wake the team. "We needed a momentum change," Jones said. "It's not fun getting pulled, I don't know about (being) surprised." Some change was certainly needed somewhere. "That was my decision at that point, but it's two-nothing and we're trying to get a reaction out of the team," Peter DeBoer said. "So we make that decision, and unfortunately the other guy (Alex Stalock) let in one the same way."
To Stalock's credit, he was fairly good tonight. He only allowed 1 goal on 22 shots against him. Unfortunately, that one was a major momentum killer from the neutral zone at the very beginning of the third period. "You know, I thought it was going to hit my pad, and its a bad feeling when you have no sensation of a puck," Stalock said.
Another change that happened quickly was swapping Melker Karlsson and Joonas Donskoi in the lineup. Karlsson started on the third line, but moved to the top line spot after the first few shifts of the game. "I liked the feel of our forward lines tonight better with him in - you've got more depth there," DeBoer said. Donskoi's move down to the third line did give the Sharks a lot more depth, for sure - the third line was all over 50% in shot attempts for the night, and defenseman Brenden Dillon, who spends a fair share of time with them, finished at a team-best 75%.
But it was hard to tell just how effective that top line was. Karlsson and his linemates seemed to be a little rusty working with each other, but were connecting more as the game went on. Their advanced stats were not very good overall, though. Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton both finished under 50% in even strength attempts tonight, with Karlsson all the way down at 33%. Strangely, the Islanders top line all finished under 50% as well. Not something you see every night.
There were two things consistent between this game and the past few. That started with the team's second line. With that line, the Sharks have players from their past, present, and future. Patrick Marleau represents the past - a Shark since 1997, and probably a Shark for life, despite the rampant trade rumors. Joel Ward is the present - a free agent addition brought in to help the team right now, and surprisingly, the player currently leading the team lead in points. Tomas Hertl is the future - a lot of potential who's actually doing a great job right now covering the hole the Logan Couture left. Right now, they're the heart of this team. So maybe it's not surprising that it was their line that truly acted as the "energy line" last night.
As you can see above, the team started slow, but that first big jump in attempts midway through the first period belonged to the second line. In the second period, the Sharks had an upward swing in momentum from all the lines after the goal, which belonged to the second line. "In the second, you saw, we were on top of them," Joe Pavelski said. "We were able to play at that high level, that fast game that we want. Everyone was a part of it." In the third period, it was the second line yet again that finally woke up the team after nearly eight and half minutes without a shot attempt.
For the visual crowd: here's the play that put the Sharks back within striking distance in the third period and why it worked. The combined work off the boards has been a major contributor to their success all year, and this goal wouldn't have happened without them.
Marleau has the puck on the boards, fends off the incoming Nikolay Kulemin, and passes over for Ward. Travis Hamonic tries to pin him to the boards, but he's strong enough on his skates to fight it off and get the pass to Hertl. Hertl sees that Steve Bernier was caught watching the puck instead of Brent Burns, and finds the crashing Burns for a goal. It's a good hard-working goal for the whole line, plus Burns, who finished it off with a little flash.
Despite the strong game, Joel Ward humbly still included himself and his line when talking about the flaws in the game. "I think we just have to pick it up a little bit, including myself," Ward said. "Our line's got to be better and just making plays and trying to create offense."
Unfortunately for the Sharks, the other constant between last night and the past few games was the powerplay - they went 0 for 2 last night. The Sharks have yet to score a powerplay goal at home this season. "We've got to get that fixed, obviously," DeBoer said. "A powerplay goal in any of these games obviously would be a difference."
Luckily, the home powerplay drought won't be an issue for the next two weeks. The Sharks hit the road for a six game trip - starting on Friday in Detroit.