For the first time since the Sharks acquired Evander Kane at the trade deadline, head coach Peter DeBoer broke up his new-look top line during Saturday's loss to the Washington Capitals. Kane, captain Joe Pavelski, and winger Joonas Donskoi only played together for 4:58 in five-on-five situations, according to Natural Stat Trick, after playing 12:36 together in the first four games after the trade.
DeBoer did so largely out of necessity, as the top line and the rest of the regular combinations struggled. In those 4:58 together, Kane, Pavelski, and Donskoi were out-attempted 7-4, while the second line of Couture, Tomas Hertl, and Mikkel Boedker (14.29 percent corsi-for percentage) and third line of Tierney, Kevin Labanc, and Timo Meier (35.71 percent) also ceded the majority of puck possession.
Those results were largely surprising for the first two lines, albeit over a very small sample. Since Kane's arrival, he, Pavelski, and Donskoi have controlled 59.84 percent of the five-on-five shot attempts, and two-thirds of the unblocked attempts.
Couture, Hertl, and Boedker haven't been as sterling, but have still largely played their opponents even in terms of shot attempts (49.46 percent corsi-for percentage), and edged them out in terms of unblocked attempts (54.24 percent fenwick-for percentage). It was more of the same for the third line, however, as they've controlled just 41.77 percent of the five-on-five shot attempts, and 48.33 percent of the unblocked attempts.
Saturday forced DeBoer's hand, but you can see the dilemma he's faced with his forward group since the Kane trade. The first line's been great, the second line's been decent, the third line has largely struggled, all while the fourth line played its opponents pretty much evenly.
He can't ask for much more from the first and fourth lines, but the middle six leaves a bit to be desired. As a team, the Sharks have controlled just under half of the five-on-five shot attempts (49.9 percent) since the trade, and 54.39 percent of the unblocked attempts.
The latter mark is particularly strong (fifth-best since the trade deadline as of this writing), and the discrepancy is likely owed to the fact that the Sharks are sixth in blocked shots since the trade deadline (103). Still, the former constitutes a larger sample, and is underwhelming as the Sharks head into a critical stretch run.
Rearranging the middle-six forwards with new second and third lines would be a solid first step, and it's a good sign for the Sharks that DeBoer showed a willingness to go even farther on Saturday. He's not been too attached to any of his lines this season, and he'll need to continue tweaking until he finds the right mix.