San Jose Sharks: Why Splitting Up The Top Dogs Will be Crucial in the Postseason
When it comes to losing streaks, sometimes coaches have to dig deep into the bag of tricks in order to get their team out of a funk.
San Jose Sharks Head coach Todd McLellan did exactly that on Tuesday night in Minnesota as he split up his team's top three scorers onto three different lines.
By separating his star players, McLellan landed on the following forward combinations:
The Sharks may have not been firing on all cylinders against the Wild but thanks to the change in lines, they were able to come away with a solid 4-1 victory to finish the road trip.
In fact, the talent was so widely spread out amongst the different line combinations that four different Shark forwards saw more ice time than Joe Thornton.
Was this a direct message from McLellan to Thornton about a need to improve his play? Probably not, but nonetheless it instilled the fact that this year's Sharks don't have to rely on just one player.
Prior to Tuesday night's tilt with Minnesota, Sharks fans had rarely if ever seen Thornton's name not on the "top line."
Since his arrival to the Bay Area back in 2005, Thornton hasn't missed a game for San Jose and has been penciled in as the "first line" center for essentially every game.
Ergo, during the four playoff runs since the trade, the Sharks have relied upon Thornton to be "the guy". Yet with the acquisition of Dany Heatley, and the increased goal scoring prowess from Patrick Marleau, the Sharks now have three premier forwards.
Now obviously with the talent each of them bring to the table, a line featuring all three of them will dominate during stretches of the regular season.
However, when the playoffs arrive, a line featuring three stars is easier for an opposing team to match up against. The majority of playoff teams, if not all of them will have a top defensive pair capable of shutting down their opponents best players.
And while the Sharks have depth, the rest of their forward lines haven't shown to be effective in the offensive zone this season when the top-line features the top three scorers.
It also happened in last year's playoffs when the Sharks were eliminated in six games against the Anaheim Ducks. Marleau, Thornton and Devin Setoguchi were shut down and subsequently, the rest of the forward lines failed to create any offense.
But with Heatley added to this year's crop of forwards, the Sharks now have another dynamite weapon at the forward position. And as we all know, players of this caliber make other players better.
By virtue of spreading out the top talent, playoff opponents won't be able to focus on just the one line.
With Thornton, Marleau, and Heatley spread out, the Sharks have arguably three potentially great lines compared to just one unbelievable line.
Now will McLellan keep the lines this way for the playoffs?
Maybe, maybe not.
After all, it was only one game and it is not customary in the NHL to play an elite goal scorer on a "third line".
Therefore, it is safe to assume that Heatley and Thornton will probably be reunited at some point before the season ends.
That said, it is vital the Sharks keep at least one of the big three on a different line than the other two.
Having two equally feared top lines will allow San Jose a better chance at extended playoff success than throwing all their eggs in one basket.
What makes the most sense for the Sharks would be to have Patrick Marleau on a line with Joe Pavelski and Heatley on a line with Thornton.
These two duos have shown tremendous chemistry together this season and because of it, each should play with one another in the playoffs.
Possible scoring line proposals for the playoffs look as follows:
However the lines end up in the postseason, it is absolutely imperative that McLellan keeps the "Team Canada" line broken up.
Secondary scoring was a huge problem for the Sharks last season and with the added offense Heatley has brought to the table, McLellan now has the ability to form two "first line" quality combinations.
When the playoffs roll around, having such a benefit will give San Jose a much better chance for extended success than they had last season.