Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?
That’s not the case so far with Bob Boughner, who replaced Peter DeBoer last Thursday.
Results have been mixed for the new bench boss — the San Jose Sharks have won one game and lost another — but it’s certainly a new-look Sharks.
These are five things that are different under Boughner:
Under DeBoer, on a dump-in, San Jose typically sent a single forward in on the forecheck first. Here are a few examples of this 1-2-2 forecheck from this year and last.
From last season’s playoffs, the F1, Joonas Donskoi (27), tries to blast through a Paul Stastny (26) pick. Barclay Goodrow (23) and Melker Goodrow (68) provide forward support.
Joe Thornton (19) is the F1 here — the F2, Marcus Sorensen (20), doesn’t go below the goal line until there’s a 50-50.
Here’s a 1-2-2 example from DeBoer’s last game as Sharks head coach in Nashville:
Timo Meier (28) is the F1. Notice that Tomas Hertl (48) and Kevin Labanc veer off before the goal line because Meier hasn’t recovered the puck or forced a 50-50 — and the puck is going the other way.
Boughner is unleashing two San Jose forwards below the goal line on the forecheck — even when they’re not necessarily close to winning the puck.
This is an example of a 2-1-2 strong-side forecheck. Both Goodrow and Patrick Marleau (12) chase the dump into the corner below the goal line, on the same side of the ice as the puck (hence “strong-side”).
Here’s a different 2-1-2 forecheck.
Vancouver goaltender Jacob Markstrom stops the dump-in. Logan Couture (39) tries to seal off Markstrom’s forehand, while Evander Kane (9) takes away the backhand. Essentially, Couture goes to the right of the net, while Kane takes the left. This is called a 2-1-2 spread forecheck.
“The forecheck’s a different look for sure,” Boughner acknowledged.
So why are the Sharks pursuing this more aggressive forecheck?
Shot Generation Up Front
Boughner is prioritizing shot generation at 5-on-5 from forwards over defensemen.
One way to achieve this is an aggressive forecheck that’s designed to force more turnovers down low, defensive risks be damned.
“What we want to do is get the puck from the back of the net to the front in high-danger scoring areas as quick as possible,” Boughner relayed. “When we get the puck, we want to spread teams out. We don’t want to end up with three guys in the corner.”
Here’s a working model from Boughner’s first game as head coach:
Pressured by Kane on one side, Jacob Trouba (8), perhaps caught off-guard by San Jose’s new 2-1-2, gives it up to Meier on the other side. Meier and Couture finish off a down-low two-on-one.
Under DeBoer, Brent Burns’s shot-pass threat was perhaps the focal point of the team’s offensive attack. Not anymore.
“In this new offensive thing that we have, he’s maybe not going to get as many shots,” Boughner admitted.
Here’s an example of a defenseman, Erik Karlsson (65), passing up on a point shot to set up his forwards.
Marleau delivers the puck to Marc-Eduoard Vlasic (44) manning the left point. Vlasic goes D-to-D to Goodrow, who has switched with Karlsson up top.
Goodrow shovels the puck to Karlsson — the forward and the defenseman rotate. Karlsson then takes advantage of an aggressive close-out by Filip Chytil (72), returning it to Goodrow, who now owns more attack space.
“We have some elite shooters on our blueline, we’re not going to take that away from them,” Boughner stressed. “But we are concentrating on trying to create some more offense below the top of the circles.”
Just as intriguing as Hertl’s return to the wing and Thornton’s increased minutes/offensive zone deployment?
It’s Karlsson’s usage at 5-on-5.
Throughout his career, Karlsson has seen more offensive zone faceoffs than defensive zone — understandable, considering the blueliner’s more obvious skills. From 2016-2019, Karlsson enjoyed a 55.25 Offensive Zone Faceoff Percentage at 5-on-5, meaning for every 100 of his offensive or defensive zone faceoffs, roughly 55 of them began in the offensive zone. This 55.25 is 14th-most offensive in the NHL during this time (of 118 defensemen, 3000+ 5-on-5 minutes).
It’s been just two games, but Boughner appears to be doubling down on Karlsson’s underrated defensive acumen. Partnered with shutdown stalwart Vlasic, Karlsson has endured a minuscule 25.0 Offensive Zone Faceoff Percentage at 5-on-5.
This figure will rise — Ben Lovejoy’s 37.32 Offensive Zone Faceoff Percentage at 5-on-5 was the most extreme defensive usage in the league from 2016-2019 — but Boughner is leaning on Karlsson in a way that he’s never been leaned on before.
“Pickles has been a great defensive, two-way defenseman for a long time. Him and Karly complement each other well,” Boughner indicated. “Karly has that good puck movement; they seem to get themselves out of trouble in their own end.”
Labanc at the High Slot
Labanc has been a Sharks’ power play fixture for a couple years running. In particular, the right-handed playmaker has found success with keeping the puck away from penalty killers along the right wall.
However, San Jose’s man advantage has tripped recently, going 1-for-30 to hasten DeBoer’s departure. So while Brent Burns back up top and Karlsson at the wall were the most conspicuous changes on the first power play of the Boughner era, the most surprising tweak was Labanc:
“We’ve talked to him about getting the puck off his stick quicker. He’s a weapon there,” Boughner explained. “Especially if we’re going to work it on Karlsson’s side all the time ... as a righty to a righty, it’s a one-timer in the middle, where we never had that before. We had a lefty in there.”
Last year, left-handers Hertl and Kane played the most minutes in the high slot on the Sharks’ power play.
Boughner wants the pass-first Labanc to be in a shoot-first position: “He’s got a great shot; I want to see him shoot more. I don’t think he shoots enough.”
In addition, Boughner believes that Labanc can excel with less time and space in the power play bumper spot: “He excels in the small areas. He’s got a high hockey IQ when it comes to tight areas, make that little play to relieve pressure.”
A Goaltending Controversy?
Boughner was noticeably non-committal when asked point-blank if Martin Jones was still his number-one after a sub-par performance against New York.
“I think they have to push each other,” Boughner offered, of Jones and presumed back-up Aaron Dell. “If they’re not playing well, someone else gets a chance.”
After Dell followed with a victory over Vancouver, Boughner was surprisingly candid about his keepers:
Boughner, on #SJSharks goaltending: "This is a competition. Both guys are good goalies. Jonesy's going to get a chance here to work with Nabby for a few days. Deller goes in net next game."— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) December 15, 2019
SJS plays ARI on Tue, then breaks til Sat v. STL & Sun v. VGK. Dell might go 3 of next 4
Now Dell may not hold the net for long — in this six-day stretch, the Sharks play just once, before a weekend back-to-back versus St. Louis and Vegas.
But this will be just Dell’s second time starting in consecutive games — with Jones healthy — in his Sharks career.
Last November, after Jones stumbled out of the gates, Dell beat, coincidentally, the Canucks at home. Dell got the call again the next night, and given the best opportunity of his career to seize a number-one NHL job, he surrendered six goals in Las Vegas.
Can Dell get the hot hand? Second-to-last in overall save percentage, honestly, San Jose will take some lukewarm netminding.