Tomas Hertl’s injury forced Pete DeBoer to puree San Jose’s lines a couple weeks ago, but even through the inconsistency a few lines have stood out. Corsica.hockey’s very useful line combo tool allows you to look at stats for specific line combinations, which at the very least let’s us see who has been playing with who this season.
So let’s start with that. Here are the Sharks four most common lines without reusing any players:
Patrick Marleau — Joe Thornton — Patrick Marleau
Logan Couture — Joonas Donskoi — Joel Ward
Chris Tierney — Matt Nieto — Mikkel Boedker
Those who excel at math will notice I only included three lines. That’s because the Sharks only have three lines before they start reusing lines. Like I said, lots of mixing and matching has gone on this season thanks in large part to Hertl’s injury. Okay, so forget, that. Among lines with at least 20 even strength minutes, who’s posting the best possession numbers?
That’s easy to answer. Here it is in graphic form:
We can glean a lot of information from this chart because the numbers have been adjusted for score and venue. One thing they haven’t been adjusted for? Opponent. So yes, the Pavelski — Thornton — Ward line was a disaster, but it was a disaster against other team’s top lines while the Haley — Tierney — Wingels experience has come against other team’s worst players.
Another thing to consider is the amount of time each of these lines has spent on the ice this season. For instance, the Couture — Thornton — Pavelski line may be the “best” line the Sharks have had this season, but it’s almost certainly never (or very rarely) been deployed to start a shift.
It’s much more likely that Marleau goes off for a change, Couture comes on while Thornton and Pavelski gain the zone and the Sharks hold the zone for an extended period which pumps up their shooting numbers. Obviously that’s a bit of conjecture, but I’m not going to argue for Couture to be moved to the top based on that data alone.
Still, it provides value in that it shows the Captain Line remains as good as we thought it was while the Sharks struggle to find consistency on the fourth line. That being said, perhaps it’s time to give that Wingels — Karlsson — Nieto combination another shot as their fenwick numbers look very, very snazzy albeit in limited action. The line’s expected goal percentage (59.65) is admittedly a little less sexy, but that would be a terrific fourth line unit.
My biggest takeaway is the dominance of Thornton and Pavelski. The two are all over the top of this list because (with the exception of Ward, apparently) just about anyone can play with the two and post incredible numbers. It’s not a coincidence I’ve gotten very few question about Thornton’s status for next season while I’ve taken scores on Marleau’s. Thornton is going to play until he doesn’t want to anymore because he’s good enough to do it.
Using these numbers combined with a little bit of eyeballing, here’s how I would line up the Sharks until Tomas Hertl comes back into the lineup. Note: This all changes when Timo Meier gets called up. More on that at another time, though.
Patrick Marleau — Joe Thornton — Joe Pavelski
Joel Ward — Logan Couture — Joonas Donskoi
Mikkel Boedker — Chris Tierney — Kevin Labanc
Matt Nieto — Tommy Wingels — Melker Karlsson
I think this gives the Sharks a balanced group and some depth scoring. I wouldn’t be totally opposed to putting a guy like Boedker on the fourth line in the place of Karlsson, but I think having three true scoring lines and a fourth line that keeps out of trouble is a fine mix.