Pete DeBoer subbed Joel Ward back into the Sharks lineup on Sunday after healthy scratching the forward on Friday night in Montreal. The move paid immediate dividends, as San Jose looked dangerous no matter which line put blades to ice-substitute.
Yes, the Sharks lost 4-1 on Sunday evening, but DeBoer must learn the right lesson from that defeat. No, Ward didn’t respond to the benching my scoring three goals, but he did play very well in the Sharks’ defeat. He looked every bit as dangerous as he has at any point this season.
Ward was a +5 at even strength in corsi differential against Chicago, while Timo Meier led the pack at +11. The Captain Line struggled the most against the speedy top unit that included Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. San Jose showed, again, it can’t hang with a fast team which poses a scary look into the postseason matchups to come.
The Sharks need to keep building towards a faster lineup by inserting young, quick skaters into their lineup. Meier and Labanc are a start, and once Tomas Hertl returns perhaps Nikolay Goldobin can further increase the average speed of San Jose’s forward group.
Regardless, San Jose didn’t lose on Sunday because it lacked size. If anything, the obsession with hitting led to Chicago’s win. The Sharks chased hits to an almost absurd degree and still managed to win the possession battle (score-adjusted fenwick, anyway).
I’m not saying there isn’t a place in the Sharks game for hits; there absolutely is. What I’m saying is the Sharks need to find a balance between hits and speed if they want to get back to the Stanley Cup Final and actually hoist it this time around. Chicago is not the best team in the NHL, but San Jose must learn the right lesson from its loss on Sunday.
That lesson? Don’t overcommit to size and physicality. The Sharks need more speed while also committing to youth and speed. That’s the future of this team, and the better they get in terms of zone entries and exits the closer they’ll get to hoisting their first ever Stanley Cup. I think.