Sharks fourth line prompts Oilers to adjust attack

Sharks fourth line prompts Oilers to adjust attack

SAN JOSE – There was rampant speculation after Game 2 that Sharks coach Pete DeBoer would dress tough guy Micheal Haley on Sunday in Game 3, after his club was outhit and on the receiving end of some borderline checks from Zack Kassian. If there is one guy at DeBoer’s disposal that could answer Kassian, Haley is the guy.

Instead, the coach stuck with a fourth line of Chris Tierney centering rookies Timo Meier and Marcus Sorensen, and it proved to be the right move. They were especially good in the first period, playing in the offensive end, finishing their checks and getting some good looks at the net. 

The line has been together since the start of the series, and according to NBC analyst Keith Jones, it’s “been [the Sharks’] best” line through three games.

"They were good. They had a lot of chances in that first period,” Logan Couture said. “Timo played really well. He cycled the puck, he was hard on pucks. ‘Tierns’ had a couple good looks, and so did Marcus. Obviously if you ask them I'm sure they'd say they'd like to score on a couple of those chances, but I thought they created them and did a good job."

Tierney had the best chance of all, getting the puck in the high slot with nothing between him and Cam Talbot, but he fired high and wide in the opening frame.

“It comes down to just burying your chances. We had a couple,” Tierney said. “I would have liked to bury that one in the first. I think we need to create more dirty opportunities to get goals. I don’t expect the two teams to give any more leeway, it’s going to be tight the rest of the series.”

Joe Thornton’s return to the lineup, along with the effectiveness of the fourth line, prompted Oilers coach Todd McLellan to make an adjustment to his attack. Leon Draisaitl, who had been on Connor McDavid’s wing, was shifted to the third line center with Kassian and Drake Caggiula. 

That was the line on the ice when Kassian took advantage of David Schlemko’s turnover in scoring the only goal in Edmonton’s 1-0 win. The Sharks had just eight shots on goal after the move, too, which occured about six minutes into the second period.

When asked about the line change, McLellan told the Edmonton Journal: “With [Thornton] coming back into the game, they’re big and strong down the middle. It’s one of their strengths. We started the night a certain way and I didn’t think it was working in our favor so we moved a few things around.”

DeBoer downplayed Edmonton's strategic decision.

“You guys want this boxed up so one change made a difference in the game. I don’t think that’s the reality,” he said. “It was an evenly played game all the way through. They make adjustments, we make adjustments. Their adjustment worked last night.”

There were no indications on Monday as to whether DeBoer - who had Tomas Hertl back on the Thornton/Joe Pavelski line late in Game 3 - would make any adjustments to his lines for Game 4, as the team held an optional skate with many players staying off of the ice. But, expect that fourth line to remain together, at least to start.

“I thought they had great energy,” DeBoer said. “I thought they were excellent in the first period. Probably forced them to make a change, which they did. We’ve just got to continue to keep going at it.”

* * *

Mikkel Boedker, who was a healthy scratch for one game in the regular season, was the odd man out for Game 3. He was on the ice longer than any other Sharks forward on Monday’s off-day.

Whether he returns for Game 4 is unclear.

“Those are tough decisions. It wasn’t easy,” DeBoer said. “I don’t think it’s been all bad. I think he was really good in Game 1. He could easily be back in there tomorrow.”

Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are


Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are

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.

Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens


Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens


SAN JOSE — Logan Couture credited a teammate for scoring his second goal. He took credit for the first one.

Couture scored a pair of goals and the San Jose Sharks extended their dominance of the Montreal Canadiens with a 5-2 victory on Tuesday night.

Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl also scored for the Sharks, who have won the past 11 home games against the Canadiens, a streak that dates to Nov. 23, 1999.

On a power play late in the third period, rookie Tim Heed took a shot off a face-off that bounced free in front of the net. Pavelski couldn't get his stick on it but managed to kick it across the net for Couture, who found a huge opening.

"That was pretty special," Couture said. "I don't know if he knew I was there but he kept his balance and kicked it over."

Couture opened the scoring 3:30 into the first period, grabbing a rebound off the back board, skating across the front of the net to get Price to commit and then firing into an open net.

Jonathan Drouin and Shea Weber scored for the Canadiens, who are winless since an opening night victory at the Buffalo Sabres.

"It's a very poor start from our team, from myself, from a lot of individuals," Canadiens' Max Pacioretty said. "It's a good time to look in the mirror and see what we're made of because a lot of people are probably doubting this team right now."

Martin Jones stopped 28 of 30 shots for the Sharks, who finish their season-opening homestand with a 2-3 record.

"The biggest thing is finding that energy for the whole game," Jones said. "We started OK and then we got better as the night went on."

Carey Price, who stopped 31 of 35 shots, fell to 2-7-1 in 10 games against the Sharks.

The Canadiens responded 36 seconds later when Drouin picked up a pass from Artturi Lehkonen close in and fired it over Jones' left shoulder and into the net.

Pavelski gave the Sharks the lead for good when he redirected Kevin Labanc's shot just under a minute into the second period. The shot hit Weber's left shin pad and bounced into the net.

"There were a lot of good things out there," Pavelski said. "We didn't have the homestand we wanted but we can leave on a positive note to take on the road."

Hertl padded the lead midway through the second on a power play. Standing on the right side of the net, he was trying to control a pass from Joe Thornton but the puck fluttered off his stick and got behind Price.

"I'll take it any way I can get it," Hertl said. "There are times I've had great shots that just bounced off the post."

Weber's power-play goal two minutes later kicked off Jones' skates for the score.

The Sharks needed five seconds to score on a power play late in the second period. Tim Heed shot on goal and it bounced off Pavelski's skate. Couture picked it up and found a huge opening.

NOTES: After allowing three power play goals over their first five penalty kills, the Sharks killed off 14 straight until Weber scored in the second period. ... Couture recorded his 24th career multi-goal game. ... Sharks D Tim Heed recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Couture's power-play goal. ... Brendan Gallagher needs one assist for 100 with the Canadiens.


Canadiens: plays at the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday in their second back-to-back of the season.

Sharks: open a five-game road trip on the east coast with a game at the New Jersey Devils on Friday.