The Sharks' line combinations have been a subject of fascination since the 2018-19 season opened up. They’ve been shuffled so much, it’s almost difficult to tell if there’s any real order to them anymore.
Coach Pete DeBoer acknowledged that much after the Sharks' 4-3 overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night. It’s not about promoting or demoting anyone, it’s about finding what gives his team the best opportunity to win games.
“We roll four lines,” the Sharks’ bench boss said. “I don’t think anyone’s moving down or up.”
DeBoer has gotten into the habit of mixing and matching the forward attack in the middle of games in an effort to generate more offense. This act of throwing the lines into the blender paid off on Saturday when DeBoer made one of his most interesting moves yet – moving Joe Thornton out of his usual slot on the Sharks' “first” line, and putting him on the unofficial third line with Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen (And later wih Melker Karlsson when Labanc was part of another line shakeup).
“We’re not moving him down,” DeBoer insisted, noting that Thornton is still in rebound mode after missing time because of an infection in his surgically repaired right knee. “I moved him around tonight just because we needed to get some things going. It was a blender of forward lines tonight.”
Clearly the move worked. The newly-tooled Thornton line drew a second-period penalty on Flyers’ captain Claude Giroux, which resulted in Pavelski tying the game on the ensuing power play. The shuffle further paid off when Thornton found the back of the net with less than five minutes to play in regulation.
Thornton told the media afterwards he was comfortable moving throughout the lineup because of his confidence in his teammates.
“I just know we’re a deep team,” he said. “If I go down and play with [Melker] and Marcus, that’s still great players I’m playing with. So, it doesn’t matter where I am in this lineup. We have a solid forward group.”
Now with a bevy of games to look at, DeBoer has an even better idea of what combinations he can piece together mid-game, and which ones already fit.
“I think Couture’s line has been excellent from day one,” he said. “And we have three other lines that every night, we try and see what works the best for us right now.”
With the goal of rolling four lines without putting any emphasis on moving up or down the lineup, the Sharks have more freedom to put different things together whenever they want in an effort to generate offense.
DeBoer hopes to find more winning combinations that can last the full 60 minutes. He admitted that while he likes that he can shake up his lines, “I don’t want to have to shuffle the deck every night either.”