ST. LOUIS -- The drama from this mornings skate came entirely from the St. Louis side, where Blues coach Ken Hitchcock turned over his roster, for three separate reasons, one more fascinating than the other two.The big one was making third-line wing Chris Stewart a healthy scratch for the first time all year in exchange for Matt DAgostini, a response not only to Stewarts intermittent work in Game 1 but over the course of an up-and-down year. Stewart was clearly surprised by the move, referring at one point to its hard to do a lot in a few minutes of playing time, but Hitchcock was not sparing in his analysis of the Stewart move.We need more from him, Hitchcock said. We need more from that position, more tenacity, more determination, more second and third effort from that position.But he went on from there to describe the decision in terms of the evolution of a career. Hes had an off year. That doesnt mean he cant come back. But if youre talking about a second-line player, you can afford to be a little patient. We expect him to come back and give more. You cant keep talking about it.Stewart, for his part, was visibly shaken by the move, even though he said he expected something might be up Friday."There's obviously more to give, he said. Also, you do need the opportunity. I didn't get the most ice time in the world last game, but it's up to me to earn it. I've got to go out there with the ice time I do get and show them that I deserve more. You look at our team and our depth, there's guys that demanded the ice time and I wasn't one of them. That's why am I where I am right now."Yeah. I thought I ended the regular season on a high note. Every game matters. So, he's going to put the best 12 guys at forward that he thinks are going to get the job done. That's a tough job to do and he has to do it. Somebody has to be the bad guy."It's a pretty bad feeling, but like I said, this is the time of year that it's no time to pout or be down on yourself. We're all professionals here, and we're all a team. It's one game at a time.""Obviously when you lose a game, there is going to be changes. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out. I kind of got the idea that if there was going to be changes, I was a possibility that I could be coming out. Not to my surprise, I was out this morning.But given his successes in Colorado as a first-liner and his struggles this year, Hitchcock chose a dramatic moment to send his message.The other changes were more tactical B.J. Crombeen for Ryan Reaves on fourth-line wing, a bit of a surprise, and Carlo Colaiacovo for Kent Huskins as Alex Pietrangelos partner on the second defense pairing. The Blues struggled to make full sense of San Joses third-line-fourth-line exchanges, and though Reaves was effective as a disruptor, Crombeen can do many of the same things and more still. Both he and DAgostini will flank Scott Nichol on the Blues fourth line, while Jamie Langenbrunner gets bumped to the third line with Jason Arnott and Vladimir Sobotka.Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com
When Joakim Ryan suits up in his first NHL road game against the New Jersey Devils Friday night, he’ll do so in a familiar place.
Ryan, a New Jersey-born Swede, played for the Devils’ youth program and nearby Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) in high school. In fact, he’s already played at the Prudential Center, skating in the state championship game with CBA in 2009.
He’s not the only one due for something of a homecoming, as the Sharks may see a familiar face line up on the opposing blueline.
This is the Sharks’ first matchup against New Jersey since trading 2013 first round pick Mirco Mueller ahead of June’s Expansion Draft. Mueller was once considered the future on the San Jose blueline, a smooth-skating defenseman with size to boot.
The Swiss defender never fulfilled his potential, in part because his development was rushed from the start. He made the NHL roster as a rookie in 2014-15, almost by default. Other than Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the only defensemen ahead of him on left side of the depth chart were a far past-his-prime Scott Hannan and regular scratch Matt Irwin. Such was the nature of the Sharks’ “step back” that year.
Mueller finally got regular playing time, albeit in the minors, during his second professional season. By then, he was pushed down the organizational depth chart by the team’s acquisitions of Brenden Dillon and Roman Polak, and the development of Dylan DeMelo. David Schlemko’s signing last summer kept Mueller there for most of 2016-17, but it was Ryan and Tim Heed that ensured Mueller’s NHL future would lie elsewhere. The Swedes surpassed him, and emerged as perhaps the AHL’s best defensive pair in the process.
It’s fitting, then, that Ryan and Heed will be in the lineup tonight, and Mueller may not, as the fresh start he needed hasn’t quite panned out. He’s averaging a career-high 18:44 in ice time, but has been scratched in three of New Jersey’s seven games, including Thursday night’s overtime win in Ottawa.
So Ryan comes home to New Jersey under much happier circumstances than Mueller will reunite with the Sharks. One prodigal son returns, and the other is simply trying to save face.
It’s still early in his Devils tenure, of course, and Mueller may yet emerge as a regular on the New Jersey blueline. His Sharks reunion, though, will serve as a reminder of what once was, what could have been, and what is now San Jose’s future on defense.
The difference between a 2-3-0 start and a 1-4-0 start is bigger than two standings points.
The former is far from ideal, but if you squint hard enough, there's enough wiggle room to improve. There's still time with the latter, too, but the margin for error is much thinner moving forward.
The Sharks experienced that difference firsthand after Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. It's not an ideal record, but they’ve managed to salvage a poor start.
There are still some flaws, to be sure. The power play isn't just the Kevin Labanc show after the top unit scored all three power play goals Tuesday, but is still carrying a disproportionate offensive load. The penalty kill’s scoreless streak came to an end, but they were called into action six times.
Despite all that, Tuesday's win was San Jose’s best effort this season. Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Joe Thornton all had multi-point games for the first time this year. Martin Jones had another strong game, and appears to have shaken off his slow start.
In short, San Jose’s game is headed in the right direction. It needs to be, with a five-game road trip beginning on Friday.
Now comes the hard part.
It's on the road where we’ll get our best sense of who this team really is. Peter DeBoer won’t have the benefit of last change, and won't be able to dictate matchups.
Under these circumstances, we’ll begin to really see if Joakim Ryan is ready for a top-four role, whether Kevin Labanc is a viable first-line winger, and how the rest of the young reinforcements stack up. They will have less time off, too, as all but one game occurs after one day (or less) of rest and travel. That missed practice time isn't ideal for any team, let alone one still trying to work out the kinks.
Fortunately, the competition is forgiving, at least on paper. Other than the Devils, none of the Sharks’ four other road trip opponents have winning records as of this writing. The topsy turvy nature of the standings, though, show how little “on paper” means this early in the season.
We’ll know a lot more about who these San Jose Sharks are by the time their road trip ends. Their record still won't tell the whole story, but by then, they'll have played about an eighth of the season.
And by then, we’ll have a much better idea of how good this team really is.