The less written about the Brenden Dillon and Roman Polak pairing the better. The Sharks didn’t lose in the Stanley Cup Final solely because of a very bad third pairing, but having a very bad third pairing in the Stanley Cup FInal didn’t help.
So Doug Wilson sought to fix the Sharks’ biggest hole during the offseason by signing David Schlemko to play with Dillon. Schlemko looked like a great signing at the time, both in terms of his possession numbers and style of play.
If it looked good at the time, it looks phenomenal now. Dillon and Schlemko have been a revelation on the third pairing. The two complement each other beautifully. Dillon sees the rink well and executes zone exits while Schlemko’s speed makes the transition game incredibly fluid. That’s something that was missing with Polak last season.
I don’t mean that as a dig on Polak so much as a compliment to Schlemko. While Polak is not fleet of foot, Schlemko is incredibly quick, making the difference all the more striking. Last season, the Sharks relied on Dillon to do all the heavy lifting on the third pairing for both exiting the defensive zone and getting through the neutral zone. He’s a fine defender, but that was an unreasonable request.
Schlemko and Dillon pass the eye test with flying colors, but since I’m a slave to numbers and apparently spend too much time in front of a computer screen, I’m going to look at some charts anyway. You knew what you were getting yourself into.
This little gem from hockeyviz.com shows the the Sharks defensive pairs possession numbers. You’ll note Dillon and Schlemko boast the best numbers of any Sharks pairing; that says more about who they’re playing against than anything else, but you get the idea.
Schlemko and Dillon boast a 57.94 fenwick-for percentage according to corsica.hockey (5v5, score, venue and zone adjusted). That’s not just the best percentage on the Sharks, that’s the second-best mark of all defensive pairs in the NHL (minimum 200 minutes). I’m not saying Schlemko and Dillon are the second-best defensive pairing in the NHL (obviously), but the difference between this season and seasons past is night and day.
The Polak - Dillon pairing posted a 51.43 mark during the regular season before being devoured in the postseason (45.49). Beyond posting better possession numbers, Schlemko and Dillon can be trusted in more situations and with more ice time than any Sharks third pairing for as long as I can remember.
That’s going to bode well come playoff time. We’re only a quarter of the way through the season, but with this kind of defensive depth the Sharks look damn dangerous.