Whenever a playoff series shifts locations for the first time, the focus shifts to the matchups. The lower-seeded team gets last change as the home team for the first time in a series, and with that comes the opportunity for a head coach to deploy players based on how their opponents line up before a face-off.
With the Sharks set to face off against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 3 of the first round on Monday, don't expect San Jose head coach Peter DeBoer to take advantage.
"That's not something that I spend a whole lot of time on, so my answer to that would be no," DeBoer told reporters after Game 2 on Saturday. "[Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle's] might be different, but I'm not concerned about that."
Each of the Sharks' four lines were on the ice to score a five-on-five goal, and none of those combinations gave up one, as Evander Kane, Logan Couture, and Mikkel Boedker did when the team was in the middle of a change. Since DeBoer will ice the same lineup for the third consecutive game, it's worth looking at their underlying numbers from the first two games, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
|Line||5v5 Corsi-For Percentage||5v5 Shots-For Percentage||5v5 Scoring Chances-For Percentage|
|Kane-Pavelski-Donskoi||36.36 percent||55 percent||40.91 percent|
|Boedker-Couture-Hertl||38.64 percent||50 percent||48 percent|
|Meier-Tierney-Labanc||65.38 percent||62.5 percent||84.62 percent|
|Sorensen-Fehr-Karlsson||63.64 percent||66.67 percent||54.55 percent|
We're dealing with incredibly small sample sizes, as no line played more than 24 five-on-five minutes together and none were on the ice for more than 45 total shot attempts, 25 total scoring chances, and 20 total shots. But still, the third and fourth lines are largely the ones driving play and scoring chances, although no line has been outshot. San Jose's top two lines were better in the second game, but on the whole, have been out-possessed and out-chanced.
The short, random nature of a playoff series means the Sharks can still advance without that necessarily changing, but improvement from the top-six forwards would help in the long run, especially if DeBoer continues to ice them against the Ducks' top-six forward group. We shouldn't expect the matchups to change, but the circumstances surrounding those circumstances might.
It may just be statistical noise, considering we're talking about a two-game sample size, but DeBoer went heavy on using his top-six forwards in the defensive zone to start shifts. Of the 37 defensive zone faceoffs the Sharks took five-on-five, the first and second lines were on the ice for 28, according to Natural Stat Trick. In the regular season, both lines began the majority of their non-neutral zone shifts in the offensive zone, and to a higher degree on the road than at home.
Zone starts have a negligible impact upon puck possession in the long run, but over such a two-game sample, it's certainly possible the heavy defensive zone load has affected San Jose's first two lines. DeBoer may not use last change to chase matchups, but it will be interesting to see if he uses it to change the circumstances surrounding those matchups.