Sharks mailbag: Fixing the power play a priority

McLellan: Power play was awful vs. Wild

Sharks mailbag: Fixing the power play a priority
December 9, 2013, 11:00 am
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The Sharks are now facing their first real slump of the season, losing their last three games in regulation thanks in large part to a faltering power play. Let's see what's in the mailbag...

Do you agree with TMac's tendency to line blend so fast? Doesn't that make it hard for guys to get familiar with each other? (Joe Hospodor @ABoyAndHisTeam)

You have to keep in mind that Todd McLellan and his staff thinks more in terms of pairs than lines. This is actually pretty common around the league. McLellan has left Joe Thornton and Brent Burns together all year (Burns’ injury aside), as well as Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. I do think he’s looking for a guy that can fit in full time with Joe Pavelski, who was much more effective earlier in the year when Tommy Wingels was on his third line.

If we’re talking in the present, I look at yesterday’s move to put Pavelski on the Couture line as a way to get Pavelski going. And, Pavelski was better against the Wild than he had been on the rest of the road trip. Ultimately, I think they want Pavelski back on that third line with Wingels or Raffi Torres (or perhaps even both) when Torres returns from injury. Maybe Matt Nieto with Pavelski in place of an injured Marty Havlat is a possibility on the third line. Nieto looked good against the Wild, and would be an upgrade over Havlat.

What needs to change in order to start winning games again? (Billie Jean @billieejean7)

Well, that’s a direct enough question. It starts with the power play. The Sharks are just three for their last 39 chances on the man advantage, and its failure to produce a goal or sustain the momentum the Sharks built up during even-strength play was probably the biggest culprit in Sunday’s loss. Antti Niemi and the defense corps haven’t been as strong as they were earlier in the year, and finding a more effective third line, as mentioned above, would also help.

What do you think the #SJSharks will adjust after losing three straight in regulation? (Steph Moore @samm1947)

Other than fixing the power play, which should be repairable with the talent they have, I wouldn’t panic over anything in the Sharks’ game just yet. McLellan was as angry as I’ve seen him this season after the loss on Sunday, but that morning, he did remark that “we’re not a disaster right now.” That remains true after the Minnesota game in which the Sharks outshot the Wild 38-13. It’s not realistic to think the Sharks were going to avoid a stretch like this during an 82-game season.

What adjustments to the power play can be made to once again make it successful? (Ryan Smyth @ryanwjsmyth)

It’s going to be interesting to see if McLellan makes some changes to that top unit, something he's resisted during previous slumps, for the game on Tuesday against the Islanders. Late against Minnesota, when the Sharks went on a third period power play, he sent out Matt Irwin in place of Dan Boyle on the top unit.

Here’s an interesting stat: before Boyle’s head injury in St. Louis, the Sharks’ power play was working at a 26.7 percent clip, or eight goals in 30 chances. In the last 24 games, the power play is just 14 for 95, or 14.7 percent.

Can the Sharks get a 7th rounder for Havlat the way he's playing and with that cap hit? (Zachary Bear DeVine)

If the Sharks were offered a seventh round pick for Havlat right now, without having to retain any salary, my guess is they’d take it in a heartbeat. I think Doug Wilson may have nightmares about that $6 million salary (with a $5 million cap hit) that Havlat would carry in 2014-15.

Could Havlat fit in with another team? Maybe. He still has an ability to make plays when he has open ice and on the power play. But, he doesn’t fit here, he doesn't seem willing to change his game to fit the way the coaching staff wants the team to play, and I don’t see him in the lineup when everyone is healthy.

How long until we sign or trade for a D-man? (Evan Stefanski @SJSharks77)

I understand the concerns on defense, and they’re valid. Boyle hasn’t been the same since he got hurt, and it may be fair to wonder if he came back too soon from his injury. Brad Stuart, Jason Demers and Scott Hannan all have their good games and their bad ones, too.

But just saying the Sharks should sign or trade for a defenseman is so much easier said than done. Good defensemen are hard perhaps the most precious commodity in the league, and I would guess that at least 24 or 25 other teams would love to have more depth on the blue line. Maybe the Sharks will look for an upgrade there at some point closer to the trade deadline when some teams are out of contention, but right now, I don’t see any moves being made. That group is just going to have to play better.