Back in the second round, someone asked me on Twitter when someone was going to talk about the Brenden Dillon-Roman Polak problem. I told them "when the Sharks start losing."
Hello everyone, it's time to talk about the Dillon-Polak problem. Against other teams this postseason, the Sharks managed to keep the third pairing sheltered enough (and got lucky enough) to avoid this becoming a problem. Sufficed to say: It's a problem now.
That's not just because Polak flopped over on the ice after Dillon turned the puck over to give the Penguins their first goal in last night's game, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a factor. His slow, heavy game might have added something in rounds one, two and three — but against speedy Pittsburgh? He looks ready to go extinct.
Back in February when the Sharks traded for Nick Spaling and Polak, I said San Jose "overpaid for depth upgrades." I might have been a little too generous at the time. Neither player has been particularly good for the Sharks, but San Jose's sixth (and now seventh) defenseman wasn't looking like a great option at the time.
Now? It might be time to give Matt Tennyson or Dylan DeMelo a shot on the third pairing with Dillon. First, let's actually make the case for sending Polak to the press box — yes, one that goes beyond just showing you the Phil Kessel goal I've embedded below. I won't blame you for not watching it, I didn't want to watch it either.
So right, that's not good. At some point Polak and Dillon have to be on the ice against one of the Penguins' three most dangerous lines. Here they're stuck out there against the HBK Line (really the Penguins' second line) and they shoot themselves in the foot enough times to hang Martin Jones out to dry. This isn't really new, either.
I know there's a lot going on here, so let me try to simplify it. Polak and Dillon, who you can see just up and to the right of center, are on a chart with every defender who played at least 100 minutes this postseason. The color of their circle, red, corresponds to the scale on the far left — the darker the red, the worse you've been in possession play.
They also start more frequently in the offensive zone than in the defensive end of the ice, meaning it's a lot easier to get positive possession play going. Did you think it couldn't get worse? Well...they're also playing against the weakest competition of any Sharks defender.
You already knew this, of course, but to reiterate: Dillon and Polak are posting bad possession numbers with the most favorable zone starts against the easiest available competition. That is not very good, friends.
Of course the real question here is this: Can DeMelo or Tennyson do any better? Maybe. The possession numbers don't exactly jump off the page for either player, but given the fact that DeMelo is a much better puck handler and much quicker, it's possible he'll be victimized by the Penguins less. From TheHockeyNews on DeMelo's assets:
Can put up numbers on offense and be used on the power play at lower levels, thanks largely to a very good point shot. Is also capable of being a physical blueliner.
There are no great options here, otherwise head coach Peter DeBoer would have already used them. What the Sharks have is a chance to slow the bleeding enough to let the top lines get San Jose back into this series.