SAN JOSE — A day before departing for a six game, 14-day road trip, San Jose Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer once again changed up his forward lines. Joel Ward skated on the top line alongside Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, and Melker Karlsson slid into Ward’s spot on Logan Couture’s wing, while Joonas Donskoi filled in on the other wing.
In the bottom six, Tomas Hertl moved back to center, flanked by Mikkel Boedker and Patrick Marleau. The fourth line, where Matt Nieto, Chris Tierney, Tommy Wingels, and Micheal Haley rotated in among three spots, remained unchanged.
Pavelski, Thornton, and Ward have played just under eight minutes together at even strength since the beginning of last year, according to Corsica Hockey. That pales in comparison to how long Hertl’s played with Pavelski and Thornton, but the Sharks are improved at the moment with Hertl centering his own line, according to DeBoer.
“[Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton] are elite guys. I think if you ask them, they want to play with possession-type players,” DeBoer said. “Guys that can get it [and] hang onto it like they do in the offensive zone, and [Ward] fits that bill. He’s that type of player. You hope it works. Obviously Hertl’s a very good fit there, but we need him and I think we’re a better team with him where we’ve got him right now.”
Playing with the Joes could be the offensive jumpstart that Ward needs. He’s scored one goal through 12 games this season, and is shooting at the third lowest rate of his career at even strength (5.91 SF/60), according to Corsica. But, he’s generating scoring chances at the highest rate of his career (4.33 individual SCF/60), and is on pace to play the least power play minutes of his career, as Mikkel Boedker has moved into his spot on the second power play unit.
Boedker, along with Donskoi and Couture, have also struggled to score at even strength. Through 12 games, the trio has combined to score just three goals during five-on-five play, and Couture’s yet to score in an even strength situation.
Like Ward, they’ve been a bit unlucky. Donskoi, Couture, and Boedker rank first, third, and seventh on the team in scoring chances per game, yet are sixth, 15th, and seventh on the team in even strength shooting percentage, respectively. Scoring at even strength is only a matter of time for the Sharks, according to DeBoer.
“I think the good things we’re doing aren’t resulting in wins right now,” DeBoer said. “But, I think it’s a fine line. For us, it’s about resetting and trusting that the goals are going to come and that we can’t start opening up, or cheating, or getting away from our foundation in order to try and force a goal because that always backfires.”
DeBoer did not make any changes to his defense pairings, as Dylan DeMelo once again skated as the seventh defenseman. DeMelo’s yet to play in a game this season, but that’s a reflection of the play of the six defensemen ahead of him on the depth chart, DeBoer said.
“I think overall, we’ve been happy with the play of our group back there,” DeBoer said. “[DeMelo’s] always in the conversation, but it hasn’t gotten to the point where we’d pull out somebody healthy right now to put him in.”