Sharks Gameday: With The Trade Deadline Complete, San Jose Faces An Intriguing But Difficult Path To The Postseason
|34-20-7, 75 points||32-22-7, 71 points|
|5th in Eastern Conference ||7th in Western Conference|
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Broad Street Hockey
Over the past four seasons under Sharks Head Todd McLellan has consistently played his top players against opposing top lines, electing to go power vs. power in his quest to put his team in the best position to win every night. The vast majority of this decision making process, specifically this season, has undoubtedly been because of the following factors:
- Joe Thornton's defensive renaissance has made the idea of going power vs. power far more compelling, and the addition of the invaluable Joe Pavelski onto that top line has made playing the top line in that situation even more fortuitous.
- San Jose's top six has been one of the League's best groups in that time frame-- if you're able to outscore opposing team's forwards with your top group on a nightly basis, it reduces the need to try and play the dicey line match game and run yourself ragged trying to get the matchups you want every shift.
- In essence, by rolling your lines and establishing a rhythm to your game you avoid losing that groove which can be established when the entire bench is contributing.
- San Jose's third and fourth lines have never been able, nor solid enough defensively, to key in on an opposing teams top six. The addition of Michal Handzus this offseason was meant to establish that type of ability on the third line, but up to this point it does not appear he is up to the task.
With the addition of Daniel Winnik, Dominic Moore, and TJ Galiardi however, I think there's a case to be made that San Jose's third line is now in a position to provide effective minutes in that area, or at the very least be able to step in and get the Thornton and Couture's some more better looks against inferior competition for about 5 minutes (or a third of their shifts) at evens.
As Snark SD and The Neutral said yesterday, Winnik's ability to drive possession and lap up the toughs like a famished kitten yearning for some milk (meow) makes him a player who will undoubtedly bust out the claws (godspeed Jamie McGinn!) in this situation. As we mentioned earlier in the day, Winnik's phenomenal defensive year last year where he saw some of the most difficult defensive zone starts on the team and finished first on the team in relative CORSI is an excellent sign that he's able to handle tough minutes with aplomb. Further bolstering that statement, and perhaps even a greater indicator of what Winnik is capable of, is the little nugget of gold The Neutral dropped on us yesterday-- "48 forwards in the league this year have appeared in at least 30 games and averaged at least 2 minutes shorthanded per game. Exactly zero of them have been on the ice for fewer shots against per minute than Daniel Winnik."
In a word, Winnik is an essential part of any successful checking line across the League and a player who brings massive amounts of versatility to San Jose in defensive situations (including the penalty kill).
Dominic Moore, a player that Sharks fans haven't been able to get a full read on due to a lower body injury that kept him out of action during the tail end of the Sharks tailspin roadtrip, is another guy who fits into that tough minutes mold. While nearly not as effective as Winnik in driving the play in the right direction, Moore's underlying numbers and prowess in the faceoff circle are significant adds to a Sharks third line that should be counted on to hold their own in the defensive end while the big guns bang the twine.
Where things get truly interesting is the Martin Havlat situation-- although throwing him into the fold with teammates he hasn't played with after a prolonged injury stint seems rash at face value, Havlat's two-way game and excellent speed would theoretically mesh well with the defensive responsibility both Moore and Winnik bring to the table. It would give the Sharks a legitimate scoring threat on a third line that will likely need it, and allow them to push the pace a bit in regards to being comfortable throwing that line out in tougher situations during the postseason.
I think Tommy Wingels has been spectacular as of late, and his comfort on the second line doesn't seem to be a fleeting case of a player hitting an unsustainable run. Do the Sharks load Havlat on that third line and give San Jose's top two lines better situations by playing Winnik-Moore-Havlat sparingly against some toughs? Do they shelter Havlat on that third line when he returns, continue to go power vs. power in their top six, and hope that decreased responsibility can springboard Havlat to success? Or do they do the most likely thing, slotting Havlat alongside Couture and Clowe and rely on Winnik-Moore-Player C to hold their own in the defensive zone and chip in the odd goal here or there?
No matter how it breaks down, it's hard to ignore the skating ability San Jose's third line will now bring to the table. That in and of itself should be a significant difference and give them a nice wrinkle to throw at opposing teams.
It remains to be seen, obviously, but I think the key player in this deal is TJ Galiardi. As The Neutral, Snark SD, and myself covered yesterday, he doesn't have the underlying statistics that screams for a potential breakout down the stretch nor does he come into San Jose with a lot of momentum. But something tells me he was in need of a change after a disappointing two-year stint in Colorado relative to the expectations he set for himself in Colorado during the 2009-2010 season.
As much as it hurts to lose McGinn (and boy does it hurt) along with Michael Sgarbossa, watching Avalanche games during the last three seasons indicates to me Galiardi is the player with the highest upside in this trade and a player who could really make a big impact with San Jose both now and into the future. Whether that comes on the third or fourth line right now I'm not sure, but his unfiltered agitating style of play, excellent skating ability, and untapped scoring ability have me eagerly anticipating what he can bring to the table this season.
When healthy, San Jose has so many guys in the running for lineup spots that it's going to be interesting to see where it all lands. Until Martin Havlat's return however, it's hard to really gauge where everything is going to end up. I suspect you'll see Winnik and Galiardi play between Handzus on the third line tonight if only because of their familiarity with one another, and Tommy Wingels continue to remain in the top six considering his strong play as of late.
The addition of Galiardi and Winnik give a much needed boost to the Sharks penalty kill, with Winnik's phenomenal defensive ability and Galiardi's intriguing potential all playing into the stretch run.
As we've said before however, it's all about the big guns, and yesterday's moves reflect that.
But Winnik, Galiardi, and Moore are going to give them enough horses in the stable to get this team back on track.
Prediction: Sharks win 3-2. Goals by McGi...Jami....Jamie McGi....man. Goals by Pavelski, Wingels, and Galiardi.