Winning Play: Carrying it past the Jets

Aside from goaltending, there are no major areas of concern for the San Jose Sharks right now.

Erik Karlsson is injured, but he’s expected to return during this road trip. The penalty kill stumbled before the break, but it’s trending up. They could perhaps use another forward, but that’s what the Trade Deadline is for.

Since Dec. 2, San Jose boasts a 19-6-2 record. Comfortably in playoff position, the Sharks are in tune-up mode.

Coming out of the break, Peter DeBoer touched on one of these potential tweaks.

“Offensively, we could do a better job through the neutral zone, handling pucks and making some more plays,” DeBoer explained. “We want to avoid being the team that snaps pucks up and tips them in and goes and gets them all the time. We want to use more opportunities to handle the puck there, get our D involved in the next wave.”

Too much dump-and-chase hockey hasn’t appeared to be a serious problem for the Sharks. “It’s one of the minor things we identified,” clarified DeBoer.

Regardless of the issue’s actual magnitude, there’s no doubt that carrying the puck into the offensive zone creates more offense than dumping it in. Just for example, Corey Sznajder has tracked 16 San Jose games this year. In those contests, at 5-on-5, they’ve averaged 0.77 Shots Per Carry-in, as opposed to 0.33 Shots Per Dump-in. These splits are typical of every NHL squad, in small or large sample sizes.

In short, the Sharks are good enough to try to solve problems that don’t necessarily exist. These are the margins between another second-round exit or a Stanley Cup.

It was in these margins that San Jose tied the game last night.

Tim Heed (72) skated it up, escaping a forechecking Patrik Laine (29). He handed it off to Marcus Sorensen (20).

Importantly, Sorensen was patient with the puck, waiting for both the forechecker, Jack Roslovic (28), to be on top of him, and Joe Thornton (19) to get open.

Sorensen made a play, executing a gorgeous cross-ice pass between Roslovic’s skate and stick to Thornton.

Sorensen sucking in Roslovic also kept one Jet farther away from the play, creating just a little more time and space for his teammates.

Meanwhile, Kevin Labanc (62) contributed by driving the center lane, pushing back Winnipeg’s defensemen, Jacob Trouba (8) and Joe Morrow (70). This gave Thornton easy zone entry.

This also gave one of the greatest playmakers of all time a stage. Thornton pulled up, scanning for the open man. Laine drifted toward him, instead of focusing on the next wave of the Sharks’ attack. That would be defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic (44), who skillfully kicked the Thornton pass from skate boot to stick blade.

Connor Hellebucyk batted Vlasic’s bid down, but not out of danger. Once again, it was Labanc who manufactured time and space, occupying both Jets defenders, digging ferociously for the loose puck. This left Sorensen free to scoop it up and in.