SAN JOSE – The Sharks’ signing of free agent defenseman David Schlemko was a move that’s been widely described as under the radar. Schlemko wasn’t a very well known guy in Arizona in his six seasons there, and spent one season in New Jersey last year for a club that didn’t make the playoffs before joining the Sharks on a four-year deal.
If Wednesday is any indication, he’s going to play an important role on a Sharks team that expects to compete for a Stanley Cup. The 29-year-old had one shot, three attempts, a pair of hits and a blocked shot while playing quiet, mistake-free hockey in San Jose’s 2-1 win.
Perhaps most eye-catching, though, was that Schlemko and partner Brenden Dillon actually led all of the defense pairs in even strength minutes through two periods of what was a tie game. They may be considered the third pair, but Pete DeBoer was fine playing Schlemko and Dillon against any of Los Angeles' lines.
Each of the team's six defensemen played at least 18 minutes at 18 seconds by the end of the night.
“I thought it went well. Felt pretty good,” Schlemko said. “I thought me and Dilly used each other pretty well, and for the most part didn’t really have any lengthy shifts in our end.”
DeBoer said: “He was impressive. He gives us a nice element back there. He moves pucks, he’s got a good stick, he’s competitive, he finds a way to get pucks to the net. He’s come as advertised.”
Every NHL team will talk about its depth being important, but few are actually able to use all four lines and three defense pairs on a nightly basis. Even the Sharks last season were forced to limit their depth players somewhat frequently, particularly in the first half.
Against the Kings, San Jose got contributions from up and down the lineup maybe as much as in any game in 2015-16 when they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final. That includes fourth liners Tommy Wingels, Matt Nieto and Melker Karlsson, who were more effective as a group against the Kings than the Joe Thornton line, at least through two periods.
To be sure, the Kings were shorthanded up front, with Marian Gaborik injured and Tanner Pearson suspended. And, frankly, they may not be a playoff team this season. But the Sharks, who beat the Kings primarily with their depth in the first round of the playoffs last year, showed that they could be even better this year in that regard.
Nieto said: “We have a really good team and we’re a really deep team. Being [on the] fourth line on this team is a privilege, and I thought we did a good job last night getting a good start to the season. … For us, it’s just rolling those four lines and playing six D, and saving the big guys for later in the season.”
Employing his best coach-speak, Wingels didn't subscribe to the whole labeling of lines one through four. And, he correctly pointed out that his line saw plenty of time against the Kings’ top line with defending Selke Trophy winner Anze Kopitar.
“Pete made it clear that he’s comfortable with that matchup, allowing us to work out there,” Wingels said. “Do the minutes dictate first through fourth lines? Absolutely, but I don’t think it’s a traditional ‘this is the fourth line’ kind of team.”
DeBoer said: “As a staff we came in and we want to start that way and give everyone an opportunity [to play]. I think we all realize that we play our best when we’re not chasing matchups or trying to hide guys.”