On December 23, San Jose hosted Los Angeles for the rivals’ third and most recent meeting this season. The 2-0 victory was one of the team’s most physical, grueling wins on the year — a sure sign that a Dustin Brown-led team was in the building. The teams’ first meeting, a 4-1 victory for the Kings just two games into the season, sparked a blueline change: Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed replaced Paul Martin and Dylan DeMelo in the lineup for the next 10+ games. The teams’ second game, a 2-1 San Jose victory that needed a Joel Ward off-the-skate redirect to claim the win, saw the Sharks go 0-4 on their power play and was a likely catalyst behind some of the changes to the man advantage we saw manifest themselves during the Bruins game later that week.
This afternoon’s game followed more San Jose lineup changes. Earlier this morning, the team placed Paul Martin on waivers. The move followed the activation of Dylan DeMelo from injured reserve and the demotion of Marcus Sorensen to the AHL, moves that reveal the hierarchy present within the lineup.
Dylan DeMelo would feature prominently in San Jose’s opening goal of the game, barely keeping in a clear attempt before sending a shot-pass toward the net that Donskoi would eventually send via backhand pass to Chris Tierney for an early San Jose lead.
It’s not surprising Donskoi figured into San Jose’s scoring. He’s been all over the ice of late, adding two more goals to his season total during Saturday evening’s barnburner against Arizona. It is also unsurprising that, in a season series that has seemed to instigate lineup changes for the Sharks, two recent lineup changes combined for San Jose’s second goal of the afternoon.
The recently reunited Brenden Dillon and Dylan DeMelo pairing added assists on Barclay Goodrow’s third goal of the season after the coaching staff brought Joel Ward back into the lineup on Goodrow’s wing. The two have formed a formidable fourth-line duo this season.
When Mikkel Boedker scored halfway through the third period, it was a bit of a stolen tally. Chris Tierney skated into the zone, stopped and made a perfect cross-crease pass to Donskoi, who redirected the puck toward the net. It was not moving quite fast enough to be a sure thing, so Boedker knocked the puck the rest of the way over the line.
This game would not be complete without a visit to another Sharks constant: a penalty kill that allows dangerous chances at an alarming rate. Though Joe Pavelski would be on the ice, and the marker a technical 5v5 goal, the Kings’ goal with about seven minutes remaining in the third was power play-influenced, at the very least.
Joe Thornton added an empty-net insurance goal with seconds left on the clock to ensure San Jose would skate away with a victory. The win meant a resounding 3-1 season series victory over their rivals and a step in the right direction toward regaining their playoff spot.
Joakim Ryan has so far this season offered the Sharks the most capable Brent Burns-inclusive defense pairing. They came out barely ahead in the shot-differential column and allowed six high-danger chances against (per naturalstattrick), two more than the next Shark. On a more positive note, the Dillon - DeMelo pairing allowed just one high-danger chance against, despite being outshot by a handful.
Finally, the new(ish)-look fourth line offered mixed results. Barclay Goodrow tied Chris Tierney for the team’s third-best shot differential, Joel Ward came out even, but Melker Karlsson, as has been the case too often this season, finished with a -8 shot differential — a team low.
For the most part, today’s lineup changes were a positive sign. Despite their up-and-down showing today, the Burns - Ryan pairing should remain intact, if only because they manage to limit the amount of dangerous chances against compared to other Burns pairings. DeMelo - Dillon acquitted themselves well, though Dillon - Tim Heed together were nearly unstoppable this season.
It’s also about time the coaching staff thinks about giving Karlsson a seat in the press box for a game or two. Jannik Hansen has soundly outperformed the winger this season, and even Marcus Sorensen has offered better results with the right linemates.
Today’s game offered plenty of the same — Donskoi creating goals, Meier barely missing, and Burns allowing boatloads of chances — and a little taste of something new (at least during this half of the season). San Jose’s coaches have generally made optimal tinkerings this year. A few more minor tweaks coupled with the positive consistency we’ve seen from some players and this team is a threat in the west.