Three takeaways: Fourth line leads the way for Sharks in Arizona

Three takeaways: Fourth line leads the way for Sharks in Arizona

For the first time in five tries this season the Sharks managed to secure a regulation win over the last place Coyotes, 4-1 at Gila River Arena on Saturday. They keep their four-point lead over Edmonton, and are assured of going into the bye week in sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division.

Here are our three takeaways from the win…

1 – Burns turns the tide…again

For the second time in a week, Brent Burns changed the momentum of a game with his deadly wrist shot. The Sharks were on their heels early – Arizona had a 16-9 shot advantage in the first period, perhaps jolted be a pregame ceremony – but Burns’ shot through traffic staked the Sharks a 1-0 lead and they were on their way.

“We kind of weathered their storm early,” Joe Pavelski told reporters. “There was a lot of energy in the building.”

It was similar to a game in New Jersey last Sunday, when Burns had a pair of second period goals, erasing a 1-0 deficit and putting his team on the track to victory.

According to Elias, Burns – who added a third period power play goal, too – is the first defenseman to score 18 goals on the road since Paul Coffey’s 22 in 1983-84. His 26 goals equal his total from last season, tying his franchise record.

“He’s having an MVP season,” Pete DeBoer told reporters. “He’s been that good for us all year and it’s every night. I don’t know what else to say. In my mind right now he’s the best player in the league, and we’re happy to have him on our team.”

Burns remains in third in the league in scoring with 63 points, four points behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid.

2 – Dell gets the job done…again

Getting his second start in a week, Aaron Dell made a new season high (and, thus, career high) with 36 saves. His best stop was early in the second period on Radim Vrbata, when he managed to snag a pin-balling puck from crossing the line, keeping the Sharks ahead 2-0. Had that one trickled over, the Coyotes might have been able to seize the momentum.

“I think I had it the whole time,” Dell told reporters. “I kind of saw it for a second and then when I turned back I was able to find it and scoop it underneath me.”

DeBoer said: “He’s been good every time we’ve put him in there.”

Dell, whose goals-against average is down to 1.95, outplayed Sharks nemesis Mike Smith, who had stopped 121 of 127 San Jose shots in three games this season.

“We got to Smitty in the first period, which was great,” Pavelski said. “We kind of know what he’s done to us the past few games, stopping a lot of pucks. … That was a big key for us.”

3 – Fourth line magic

Through two periods, the Sharks’ top two lines had generated a total of three shots on goal – one each from Joe Thornton, Kevin Labanc and Patrick Marleau.

Fortunately for the big guys, the fourth line was there to pick up the slack. Melker Karlsson posted three points (1g, 2a), Micheal Haley had one goal and one assist, and the fourth line generated all three of San Jose’s goals through 40 minutes.

One goal from the fourth line is a bonus. Three is virtually unheard of. 

“They showed up and played the right way,” DeBoer said. “Right from the drop of the puck they put pucks behind the other teams defense, they had good support, they created a lot of chances, and got rewarded for it. I think Dell and them were the difference in the game early through the first half, until we got going a little bit.”

NHL Gameday: Sharks have struggled with lowly Coyotes

NHL Gameday: Sharks have struggled with lowly Coyotes

Programming note – Sharks-Coyotes coverage starts today at 4:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 34-18-6, 74 points, 1st Pacific Division
Coyotes: 20-29-7, 47 points, 7th Pacific Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***The Sharks have just one win in their last six games, but have managed a point in four of them (1-1-4). That includes Wednesday’s 6-5 overtime loss against Florida in which they were as defensively inept as they’ve been all season. Keeping the puck out of their own net has been an issue lately, as they’ve given up 20 goals over the last five games (4.00 per game), including three goals-against in overtime.

Arizona is 3-0-1 against the Sharks this season.

“They’ve had our number,” Micheal Haley said. “They play well against us, and we’ve got to come ready to play.”

Logan Couture said: “They’re a division team, they’re a young team, a lot of guys are making impressions whether it’s for contracts next year or a job to finish off this year. They’re going to work hard.”

***San Jose will host Boston on Sunday in the second of a back-to-back, in the final game before the bye week. They’d like to maintain their division lead, which stands at four points, going into the five-day break from Feb. 20-24.

“You want to give it [everything] because you know you’re going to have that rest,” Joe Thornton said. 

***Aaron Dell will make his 10th start, after a 33-save performance in a losing effort in Philadelphia one week ago. Dell is 6-3-1 with a 2.05 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, while his .950 even strength save percentage is the best mark in the NHL for goalies that have made at least 10 appearances.

Mike Smith will go for Arizona. In three games against the Sharks this season, he’s 2-0-1 with a 1.93 GAA and .953 SP.

“We know their goaltender is their best player,” Couture said. “For us, we’re going to try and get some shots and get some traffic in front of him.”

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Nikolay Goldobin. The former first-round pick is set to make his season debut, and will be the seventh forward that started the season on the AHL Barracuda to get in an NHL game. The 21-year-old, who has 37 points in 43 games in the minors this season, will start on the left side of the third line with Tomas Hertl and Joel Ward. It will be his first game with the Sharks since Nov. 22, 2015.

Coyotes: Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Coyotes’ top defenseman brings a five-game point streak into tonight’s game, with six assists over that span. The 25-year-old is second on the Coyotes in scoring with 33 points (10g, 23a) while averaging 24:17 of ice time.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Kevin Labanc – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – Mikkel Boedker
Nikolay Goldobin – Tomas Hertl – Joel Ward
Micheal Haley – Chris Tierney – Melker Karlsson

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Aaron Dell (starter)
Martin Jones

Coyotes
Max Domi – Martin Hanzal – Radim Vrbata
Brendan Perlini – Christian Dvorak – Shane Doan
Tobias Rieder – Alex Burmistrov – Josh Jooris
Jordan Martinook – Peter Holland – Ryan White

Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Luke Schenn
Alex Goligoski – Michael Stone
Kevin Connauton – Connor Murphy

Mike Smith (starter)
Marek Langhamer

INJURIES

Sharks: Joonas Donskoi (upper body) and Dylan DeMelo (broken wrist) are out.

Coyotes: Lawson Crouse (lower body), Brad Richardson (broken leg) and Louie Domingue (lower body) are out.

QUOTEABLE

“We’re a tough team, we’re a big team, we’re a strong team. If we play that way with puck possession, they can chase us around and take penalties if they want.” – Logan Couture, on how to approach the Coyotes’ physicality

Mailbag: Is it time to change the Sharks' power play units?

Mailbag: Is it time to change the Sharks' power play units?

A few trade deadline related questions in our mailbag today, ahead of March 1…

Do you think [Nikolay] Goldobin's call-up has anything to do with showcasing him for a potential trade? Or was it just his time to be called? (Adam Smith @kickback408)

It’s fair to wonder if this is a showcase situation. It’s telling that there were six other Barracuda forwards recalled this season before Goldobin, and although some of them like Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier were clearly more deserving earlier in the year, and others like Ryan Carpenter and Danny O’Regan are centers rather than wingers, Goldobin seems to have been pushed down the organizational depth chart.

To be fair, though, Pete DeBoer said that Goldobin was the Barracuda’s best player on Tuesday, as evidenced by the youngster’s one goal and two assists in that game. According to the coach, recalls have been made purely on merit this season, including this one.

I asked DeBoer on Friday morning – what took so long for Goldobin to get a recall?

“Well, you would have to ask Doug [Wilson] and Roy [Sommer]. When we need a player, my policy with Doug is, give us a guy that deserves to be up here that’s earned it on merit. I think for the most part every decision we’ve made [has] been on merit so far this year that I’m aware of. 

“I don’t think that’s a testament that [Goldobin] was playing poorly, but there were some guys down there that have had some exceptional years.”

Still, if the Sharks are going to try and make an upgrade to their roster before the deadline – either for a scoring winger or a backup goalie – they’re going to have to part with some combination of draft picks and/or prospects. They already surrendered their first round pick last season due to the Martin Jones trade, so they may not want to deal this year’s first rounder, too. Their organizational depth right now is at wing, and Goldobin possesses elite level skill. He could be an attractive target for another organization, and the Sharks would still have other wingers in the system.

Thoughts on looking for a possible third line center at the deadline, and then moving [Tomas] Hertl back to the first line? #SJSharks (Brett Itatani @Brett_T_Itatani)

I don’t see that happening, just because it’s harder and more costly to find a center, and then integrate him into the team’s system so late in the year. DeBoer has mentioned dozens of times that he likes the team’s strength down the middle with Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Hertl and Chris Tierney, and that’s unlikely to change. Hertl is the third line center for the foreseeable future.

That said it’s still an audition on the left wing of the Thornton-Joe Pavelski line, as far as I’m concerned. Labanc has done some nice things there lately, but the jury is out as to whether he can play there on an every game basis. I thought at the start of the year that Meier would be the most likely player to take over that spot, but he’s now back in the minors and maybe hasn’t had the kind of effect on the team that the front office and coaching staff had hoped he would.

It could make sense for the Sharks to look around for a veteran scorer to plug in on the left side of the top line, if they can make the numbers work.

Play armchair coach, what should both power plays look like if it was your choice? The current ones just don't gel. (Cameron Halbert @CameronHalbert)

I can understand why DeBoer has been patient with the Sharks’ top power play unit. After all, they’re only one season removed from helping the club to a 22.5 percent success rate, third in the NHL, last season. But if these guys don’t get it going coming out of the bye week, something has to change. I was recently chatting with a former player that watches the Sharks on a regular basis, and he thinks it’s overdue that they alter the units. 

The guy I’ll be watching – again, coming out of the bye week – will be Thornton. A well respected Eastern Conference scout told me last week that he thinks Thornton’s hands are starting to go a bit, which is only natural for a 37-year-old. That’s been most evident on the power play. It would be an eye-opening move, but perhaps it’s time to give Hertl a chance on that top unit in place of Thornton for at least a game or two, just to see how it looks. The team will need more from the power play in the postseason than it's shown so far.