Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer announced no changes to his lineup ahead of game one of the Stanley Cup Final. That meant Matt Nieto, who skated between game six against St. Louis and game one against Pittsburgh, sat in the press box. If Nieto is healthy, it's time to call him down to the bench.
Pittsburgh plays very quickly, something San Jose just hasn't seen too much during this postseason. Both the third and fourth lines were roundly victimized at even strength by Pittsburgh, in no small part because Patrick Marleau played with Joonas Donskoi and Logan Couture on the second line.
That leaves the third line of Melker Karlsson, Joel Ward and Chris Tierney a bit exposed. Moving Marleau back to the third line and bumping Ward back to the second would give San Jose a deeper forward group. Dropping Tierney back down to the fourth line and slotting Matt Nieto in with Marleau and Karlsson gives the Sharks a more balanced attack.
From there, send Nick Spaling back to the press box. Okay, right — don't go to the comments just yet. Let's talk about this rationally. Say what you will about Spaling's ability to kill penalties or provide a physical edge, he's frankly not as good as some of the Sharks other options. Observe:
Not to beat a dead horse, but here’s Matt Nieto’s HERO chart vs. Nick Spaling’s. pic.twitter.com/KHz3Ym9bc0— Sandstorm Jake (@jakesundstrom) May 28, 2016
Spaling's useful possession is so low that it is *literally* off the chart. Not in the good way. The bad way. I'm all for a balanced approach between the eye test and looking at numbers, but if your eyes are telling you that Spaling is so much better than Nieto that we should disregard these stats completely...well, you lost me.
So yes, send Spaling to the press box and draw together a fourth line of Chris Tierney, Dainius Zubrus and Tommy Wingels and you've got four lines that more evenly balance the Sharks speed. The keys to this being a success are pretty simple:
-Move Marleau to the third line
If DeBoer decides to stick with Spaling, and I can almost guarantee that he will, send Wingels to the press box and leave Zubrus in. Despite his age, Zubrus has played very well for the Sharks and I like his hockey smarts when San Jose gets into the offensive zone.
An added bonus to all this is re-uniting the Couture-Ward-Donskoi line, a forward group I absolutely love on the ice together. While Ward has enough giddy-up to make things interesting on the third line, his speed becomes so much more valuable when playing with high skilled players like Donskoi and Couture.
So...go do it, DeBoer. Make a change. Please.