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The Daily Chum: Who should play with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski?

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I investigate the weirdly maligned top line.

Calgary Flames v San Jose Sharks Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With the Sharks’ middle six forwards sorted out, we can turn our attention to the rest of the lineup. For those not aware, here’s how San Jose suited up Sunday against the New Jersey Devils:

Kevin Labanc - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski

Mikkel Boedker - Logan Couture - Patrick Marleau

Timo Meier - Tomas Hertl - Joel Ward

Micheal Haley - Chris Tierney - Melker Karlsson

The middle six looks very good right now. The Good, the Boed and the Ugly line is marvelous and the Timo Wardo Hertl Line (it’s a work in progress and I can’t afford to keep buying you people t-shirts) impressed over the weekend. That leaves us with two lines to play around with, especially since Joonas Donskoi should return to the San Jose lineup relatively soon.

Melker Karlsson started the game on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, but Kevin Labanc spent the majority of the game with the Joes and looked very good. He finished with a game-high +8 5v5 corsi differential according to hockeystats.ca and stepped into the puck-retrieval role we’ve seen Tomas Hertl filled so many times with the Joes.

Labanc and the Joes have posted a 57.77 5v5 corsi-for percentage this season (score, zone and venue adjusted from corsica.hockey). Those are the best numbers Labanc has put up this season (54.12 with Chris Tierney and Mikkel Boedker clocks in at second). So the numbers match up with the eye test, but Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer must decide if Labanc, Donskoi, Melker Karlsson or [a mystery fourth option] makes the best partner with Thornton and Pavelski.

I went to corsica.hockey/combos and pulled up every forward combination featuring Thornton and Pavelski from the past two seasons at 5v5 play and adjusted them for score, zone and venue. I then deleted any line including one of the players already spoken for in the middle six. That left me with the following four lines (in order of TOI):

Joe Pavelski - Joe Thornton - Melker Karlsson (236.84 TOI)

Joe Pavelski - Joe Thornton - Joonas Donskoi (119.84)

Joe Pavelski - Joe Thornton - Kevin Labanc (40.19)

Joe Pavelski - Joe Thornton - Nikolay Goldobin (28.29)

You didn’t see that last one coming, did you? Goldobin only played 28 minutes with the Joes in the 2015-16 season, but he makes the list. Let’s go through some relevant statistics and you can draw your own conclusions. Honestly, you were going to do that last part anyway. I’ll list the players in descending order of stat excellence.

Corsi-for percentage

Goldobin (59.29), Donskoi (58.12), Labanc (57.77), Karlsson (51.51)

Fenwick-for percentage

Labanc (67.42), Donskoi (62), Goldobin (60.05), Karlsson (54.41)

Shots-for percentage

Labanc (70.68), Donskoi (63.09), Goldobin (60.74), Karlsson (50.10)

xGoals-for percentage

Labanc (65.84), Donskoi (60.32), Goldobin (58.05), Karlsson (54.8)

Scoring chances-for percentage

Goldobin (68.39), Donskoi (64.12), Labanc (60.26), Karlsson (56.04)

FINAL SCORE:

Each player gets four points for first, three points for second, two points for third and one place for fourth. Here’s our final tally.

Labanc (16), Donskoi (15), Goldobin (14), Karlsson (4)

Based on this science, my vote goes to Labanc playing with the Joes when Donskoi returns, but Donskoi has the benefit of a much larger sample size. So I’m calling it a draw for now; what do you think?