Edit: As yesterday afternoon Matt Pelech was recalled from the SF Bulls while Freddie Hamilton was sent down to the AHL. We originally had Hamilton inserted onto the fourth line, but that has been amended to include Pelech instead.
Even though the NHL season has officially begun, San Jose Sharks fans have had to wait a few extra days before we see teal on the ice. Well, that day has arrived (finally!), and as an appetizer before tonight’s main course of Canucks served chilled, here are our predictions for the Sharks line combos.
With three rookies making the opening night roster, we will get a good look at a few of the fresh new faces of the Sharks. Congrats to the young guns for stepping up, even if it means they are only up for a few games. I’ve marked those guys in parentheses with R’s. Now without further ado, the offense.
First Line: Marleau – Couture – Kennedy
Second Line: Hertl (R) – Thornton – Burns
Third Line: Nieto (R) – Pavelski – Wingels
Fourth Line: Sheppard – Desjardins – Pelech
Injured: Havlat, Torres, Burish
The first couple of lines seem pretty predictable based off of what we’ve seen in the preseason, but we will go through that anyway.
The top line, which needed to find a right-winger, may have finally found one in Tyler Kennedy. From what we saw during the limited amount of broadcasted games Kennedy seemed to mesh well with Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture. He created scoring chances for himself as well as the other two.
With Martin Havlat out for a while Kennedy is going to have to step up and put up some points if this Sharks team wants to get anywhere this season. He’s also pretty good defensively, something that he will need to showcase, since this is the shutdown line that gets the task of facing the top opponents game in and game out.
Tomas Hertl clearly earned his spot on the team, but will now be forced to make an immediate impact on the first line with the loss of a few key offensive pieces. Hertl should have no problem doing so considering he had a great preseason.
Pairing him with two other big bodies in Joe Thornton and Brent Burns could be a great combo and a tough task for opposing defenders. Meanwhile, we expect big things out of Thornton this season, especially now that he will not have to be the team’s top defensive center.
The third line, which lost the most due to Raffi Torres’ injury, will take on rookie Matt Nieto on the left wing. Nieto also brings more offense to his game than anyone else on the fourth line, which is why we have him up on the third line. Joe Pavelski, who on any other team is a number two center at worst, will once again have to put up points with a bit less talent around him compared to Thornton or Couture. He’ll find a way to get it done, but it will be up to his wingers to see how much Paveklsi can produce.
The fourth line will be without Adam Burish for a few games, and in his place will be Matt Pelech. What happens to Pelech once Burish returns is up in the air considering he is more or less the enforcer, but for now he gets a chance to get into a few more fights and bash some skulls in.
As a whole don’t expect major minutes from this fourth line. However, do expect them to be an energy-type line that McLellan can throw out there when the team needs a spark, especially with Pelech who has no problems riding the pine for five minutes.
Now onto the defense.
First Pair: Boyle – Irwin
Second Pair: Vlasic – Braun
Third Pair: Hannan – Demers
The top pair, mainly for offensive reasons, will be Dan Boyle and Matt Irwin. Boyle has looked good offensively during the preseason and needs that to carry on to the regular season. Without many other offensive options on defense, he will need to provide more production from the back end than he did last season to help out the offense. Irwin will also need to chip in and help alleviate some of that pressure to put up points as a defenseman.
Clearly the Sharks’ top defensive pair, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun will get the toughest minutes of any defensemen this season. Vlasic has proven himself as a shutdown defenseman (and probably the most underrated as well), so the pair’s success defensively will fall on Braun to hold up his end of the bargain. They won’t be counted on for any offense, but anything they can put up would be nice. They will also need to learn how to move the puck up the ice, or else they could face a lot of defensive zone time.
The third pairing will start as Scott Hannan and Jason Demers, although once Brad Stuart is back he may factor in as well. If Demers’ offensive potential ever shows up this could turn out to be a decent pairing.
I for one much prefer Stuart over Hannan at this point and with good reason considering the only defenseman that faced tougher competition last season than Stuart was Vlasic (based on Corsi Relative QoC with at least 20 games played). So, we know he can still handle stiffer competition compared to Hannan who faced the weakest competition (using the same statistic with at least 20 games played) of Sharks’ defensemen. Also, for what it’s worth, he has the highest PDO on the team. Hey, sometimes a little puck-luck goes a long way. (For those trying to understand the crazy language of hockey statistics, here’s a great link to get you started.)
Knowing Todd McLellan, his lines can change in an instant, and most likely will quite a few time throughout the season. In fact, once a few guys like Burish and Stuart get healthy, expect those changes to be made. However, as things stand now, these are they line combos we can look forward to seeing tonight, save for a few tweaks.
Let the countdown to tonight begin.