Mailbag: Should Sharks trade a d-man for scoring help?

Mailbag: Should Sharks trade a d-man for scoring help?

Tuesday’s practice was canceled, as the Sharks boarded an afternoon charter flight to Los Angeles with the dads in tow for the annual fathers trip. That leaves us some extra time for a mailbag…

Why is no line set over halfway through the season? (Kevin Cocquyt @KevinCocquyt39)

The shuffling up of lines is one of those aspects of the game that I think gets overblown a bit. I can’t put a number on how many times Pete DeBoer has prefaced his reply to a question about the latest line changes with the phrase, “we’re not married to any lines…”

That said, I do think the preference would be to ice a more consistent top six at this point. The fact that they haven’t found a left wing to consistently skate on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski is concerning. On the second line, it remains to be seen if Kevin Labanc can stick with Logan Couture, or if he’ll start to fade a bit in his first NHL season. The other players that started the season on the second line, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker, have been moved all up and down the lineup all season long (more on that below).

Tomas Hertl’s absence has thrown a monkey wrench into all of this, of course. Assuming he gets back next month, there’s still plenty of time to get the lines sorted out for the playoff push. Regardless, though, they are almost always fluid, and keep in mind when DeBoer made a major change to his lines last playoff run – moving Patrick Marleau up to the second line and Chris Tierney to center the third line in the middle of the Nashville series – the Sharks finished off the Predators in the second round and went on to beat the Blues in the Western Conference Final.

So I guess my message here would be, don’t panic all that much at this point. It’s a long season.

Largest surprise and disappointment with the Sharks halfway through the season? There's a lot to pick from on both fronts. (Drew Cormier @DrewCormier)

I’ll give you one obvious and one maybe less obvious for both.

I’ll start with biggest surprise. It has to be Labanc. I know he tore up juniors last season, but this is still a kid who just turned 21 years old and wasn’t a high-round draft pick (sixth round, 2014). I knew the organization was high on him, and I even had him down as a dark horse player to make the team out of camp, but to come up so soon, and play regularly on a top scoring line and score seven goals – more than Donskoi, Boedker, Tierney, Joe Thornton and Joel Ward – is impressive, and, frankly, surprising.

One guy that’s gone under the radar a bit, though, is Brenden Dillon. The 26-year-old defenseman is simply faster and more mobile than he was last season, and he’s really made this defense corps one of the best in the NHL one-through-six. I know the numbers don’t show it, as Dillon has just four assists and a minus-five rating, but he’s a better player than he was last season.

As for disappointment, Boedker remains at the top of that list, even after his hat trick against the Oilers. He just doesn’t seem like the type of player that fits in with this forward group. At this point, I have to think there’s some buyer’s remorse there with Boedker owed $4 million a season through 2019-2020.

But another player that just hasn’t taken that next step so many thought he would is Donskoi. He was downright electrifying on some nights in the playoffs last season, and I thought this season we might see him get to 15-20 goals and 40-50 points. Instead, he’d be on pace for just 28 points in a full 82-game season. I thought he’d be better.

What do you think [Justin] Braun is worth? Can he be used as part of a deal for a top scoring forward? We need extra scoring. (Backhand Shelf @ChrisRivs)

I can understand the concern with the Sharks’ lack of scoring, and that many of their key forwards seem to be underperforming. Perhaps adding a little more scoring punch to their roster at the trade deadline is something that Doug Wilson will explore.

But, I don’t see any way this team will move one of its top four defensemen for a scoring forward. The strength and identity of this team this season has been its defensive structure and its ability to limit the opposition from getting shots and scoring chances in front of goalie Martin Jones. Moving Braun, or any of their other big minute defensemen, just wouldn’t make any sense.

I do, however, expect they’ll lose at least one of their current top six before next season, either through a trade or the expansion draft. That could very well be Braun, who might not get protected. In the meantime, though, they need him on the blue line.

Sharks recall three; Donskoi to IR

Sharks recall three; Donskoi to IR

The Sharks placed forward Joonas Donskoi on injured reserve Tuesday, and recalled a trio of players for their game against Los Angeles on Wednesday at Staples Center.

Donskoi has not played since Jan. 11 at Calgary, dealing with an upper body injury that is not believed to be serious. Although he’ll miss his third straight game on Wednesday, the 24-year-old could technically return for Thursday’s home game against the Lightning. In 41 games this season, Donskoi has six goals and 14 points.

Up front, forwards Ryan Carpenter and Barclay Goodrow were recalled, suggesting that someone from Monday’s 5-2 win over the Jets might not be able to play against the Kings. Logan Couture blocked a Toby Enstrom shot with about nine minutes to go in that game, and there was no immediate update on his status. The Sharks did not practice on Tuesday morning.

Carpenter has one goal in three games with the Sharks this season, coming on Nov. 30 in Los Angeles. He has 20 points (8g, 12a) in 29 AHL games this season. 

Goodrow has yet to make his Sharks season debut, but is first on the AHL Barracuda with 12 goals. He has 15 points (4g, 11a) in 74 career NHL games.

Tim Heed, also recalled, will likely serve as the seventh defenseman filling the void left by an injured Dylan DeMelo (broken wrist).

Three takeaways: Third line leads the way for Sharks

Three takeaways: Third line leads the way for Sharks

SAN JOSE – In an important rebound performance, the Sharks handled the Winnipeg Jets fairly easily in a 5-2 victory at SAP Center on Monday afternoon. They put an end to a stretch of losing five of seven (2-4-1), and have now won three of their last five (3-2-0). Here are the three main points we’re taking away from the game…

1 – Third line leads the way

We focused on Joel Ward in our primary game recap yesterday, as Ward’s performance and the play he made on the second goal stood out. But Ward’s linemates Timo Meier and Chris Tierney also put an end to lengthy scoring droughts, as Meier got a goal for the first time in 13 games and Tierney got one for the first time in 14 games.

All three players had two points, with a goal and an assist each, while Tierney and Ward were each a plus-three (Meier was a plus-two).

“Obviously for a forward you want to score goals but sometimes you just have to be patient,” Meier said. “It’s my first season in the NHL and [I’m trying to] stay patient, work hard and just keep going and do the little things right. I know it will build up to success if I do the little things right.”

Tierney was in need of a strong game maybe more than anyone else, as he continues to fill in on the third line for an injured Tomas Hertl, who still has no official timeline to return. Tierney had just one point, an assist, since scoring that goal against the Senators on Dec. 14 headed into Monday.

He liked the way his line was working.

“Both those guys on the wing are big heavy guys,” he said. “They get in the corners, they win puck battles. They go to the net hard, they get pucks out of our own end. It’s pretty easy.”

Here’s one stat we missed on the postgame sheet, too: Ward was a perfect nine-for-nine in the faceoff circle.

2 – Don’t underestimate the goaltending

While everyone got a laugh at Martin Jones’ failed try at an empty net goal in the closing seconds, Jones was as important a player the Sharks had on Monday. The Sharks looked like they were taking some time to get into the game, perhaps unaccustomed to the early start, and Jones made some point-blank saves to keep it scoreless before Ward’s shorthanded score. 

"They came out ready to play,” Pete DeBoer said of the Jets. “The first five minutes Jonesy made some big saves, allowed us to kind of get our legs going. And then I thought we really started to play.”

On the other end, goalie Michael Hutchinson wasn’t nearly as sharp. He was off his angle on Ward’s goal, and on Brent Burns’ power play goal, he failed to read the shot going wide and it deflected in off of the back of his skate. 

I tweeted before the game that it seems like there are more NHL teams than usual that are dealing with goaltending problems these days. In fact, the Jets got so desperate after Monday’s game that they recalled former starter Ondrej Pavelec from the AHL. The Sharks clearly don’t have that problem, so long as Jones remains healthy. Jones’ importance to this team simply can’t be overstated, and it was proven again on Monday.

3 – Slowing down the Jets

Several players spoke about how the Sharks were able to slow down the Jets, who possess some pretty speedy players, after that initial push. Winnipeg beat the Sharks twice last season in three meetings.

“I just thought once we got pucks in [deep], [we had] some poise to hold on to it and make plays, just slow them down a little bit.” Ward said. “They’re a fast team obviously, really good on transition. If we could play in their end a little bit and frustrate them a little bit mentally, we’d get some chances.”

Jones said: “I think after the first 10 minutes we really started taking over the game. We did a good job slowing them down. They’re a really fast team with some good forwards. We did a great job through the neutral zone, kind of eliminating their speed.”