Chemistry Behind Sharks’ Surge up the Standings

Road Schedule From Hell

The Sharks completed their first Western Canada sweep in franchise history.  (Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)
The Sharks completed their first Western Canada sweep in franchise history. (Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

For the majority of their arduous (and that’s putting it lightly) road stretch to start the season (16 of their first 21 games were away from home, toughest schedule in NHL history), the Sharks were up and down. One of the main problems was the lack of chemistry with the lines and defense pairs.

Prior to their current hot stretch, where the Sharks have won seven out of their last eight games, Sharks fans were always curious as to what the lines were each day. Not just each game, each day at practice they seemed to flip flop. Over the course of the first couple months of the season, we saw tons of different lines. On the top line, anchored by big Joe Thornton, the Sharks used the following combinations through the first couple months:

Tomas Hertl-Thornton-Joe Pavelski

Matt Nieto-Thornton-Pavelski


Patrick Marleau-Thornton-Hertl

Tye McGinn-Thornton-Pavelski

San Jose’s second line has usually been consistent over the years with Marleau and Logan Couture, but even they have been split up. There have been a handful of alterations to the second line.

Marleau-Logan Couture-Nieto




Marleau-Couture-Tyler Kennedy

As you can see the Marleau-Couture and Thornton-Pavelski combos have been mostly intact but both were split up on occasion, although we never see Pavelski to third line center (except for once at practice). The third line has been a hodgepodge as well. The bottom six group has been hit by injuries but even when a Hertl-James Sheppard-Kennedy line was playing well, they were split up without any injuries occurring.

McGinn-Chris Tierney-Tommy Wingels





Goodrow-Sheppard-Melker Karlsson

There were a number of other third pair combinations thrown out there, those are just the ones that come to mind. And the fourth line?

John Scott-Andrew Desjardins-Adam Burish

Mike Brown-Desjardins-Burish






*(Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)
*(Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)

In fact for all the lines, there are probably a few combinations forgotten about, it has been that kind of year with the forward groups. However, over the last eight games, lines have finally started to stay together on a regular basis and it is paying off with a surge up the standings.

While the hot streak started with McGinn playing on the top line, over the last six-and-a-half games, the top line is back to Hertl-Thornton-Pavelski. Sharks head coach Todd McLellan can pencil that line in without even thinking about it. This trio in particular was dominant in both the last two games against Minnesota and Nashville. McLellan can also pencil his second line of Marleau-Couture-Wingels into the lineup without much thought. This line has been together for the majority of the hot stretch as well. Only when Couture missed part of the Philadelphia game due to injury was this line split apart. They have also been picking up the points on a regular basis. This top six group has been absolutely on fire. The top line has combined for 20 points over the last eight games, while the second line has done even better over that time, 28 points total between the three of them.

The bottom six has also started to find an identity with consistency. James Sheppard has been the third line center for quite some time now since getting back into the lineup after starting the year injured. He has played the majority of his games this season as the third line center. At the beginning of the streak he was playing well with Matt Nieto and Tyler Kennedy on his wings. With those two both sustaining injuries, the last three games Sheppard has thrived with a pair of rookies on his line in Goodrow and Karlsson. Sheppard has a respectable four points over the last eight games, and since joining the line, both rookies have played well. Goodrow chipped in with his first career goal and Karlsson added an assist. They have been playing quality minutes, rarely hemmed in their own zone.

Speaking of the bottom six, the Sharks finally have a consistent fourth line with talented players on it. With Burish having been waived and sent to Worcester, Brown being injured, and Scott scratched the past couple games, it has forced the Sharks to ice a skilled fourth line. Mcginn, Tierney, and Desjardins have give the Sharks quality minutes by sustaining more offensive zone time than a line with Brown and Scott ever could. Not only can they play offensive minutes but with the underrated vision and hands of Desjardins with top prospect Tierney (known for his play making abilities), this trio can actually create some grade A scoring chances.

Burns Sharks
The San Jose Sharks were undoubtedly happy to see Brent Burns back in the lineup, and so should fantasy managers. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The consistency doesn’t end with the forward lines though. The defense pairs have also been easy to pencil in. While the top pair Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun has been constant nearly all year long, the second and third pairs were a merry-go-round until this recent hot streak. Brent Burns struggled mightily the first couple months of the season on the second pair. That said, it certainly wasn’t easy for him playing primarily with a 19-year-old rookie in Mirco Mueller. Burns also spent some time paired with Matt Irwin, who, like Mueller, is currently struggling to stay in the lineup. However, ever since Jason Demers was traded to Dallas for defenseman Brenden Dillon, things have changed. Although Dillon got off to a rocky start in his first few games, he has since solidified that second pair next to Burns. A much more defensive minded, swift skating, large left-handed defenseman has been a great fit for the similarly huge but right-handed and offensive minded Burns. These two have established themselves as a quality second pair that the Sharks were missing to start the season. As Fear the Fin recently noted, one of the biggest things is they are reading off each other well, particularly being able to read when the other is going to make a reverse D to D pass.

Not only has the second pair finally established some chemistry, but quietly, Scott Hannan has been terrific anchoring the third pair. The wily old veteran defenseman looked like he was slowing down last year but he’s been a bright spot lately. He provides very little offense, and the team doesn’t score a whole lot when he is out there, but this season he actually leads the team in goals against per 60 minutes of ice time, even better than Vlasic. Nobody could have predicted the 35-year-old to be this good. His partner on the third pair continues to rotate between Irwin, Mueller, and now Matt Tennyson, but Tennyson has looked good in both the games he has played this season. With a defensive rock like Hannan there to bail him out, we might see those two as the third pair for a number of games to come.

It is no secret why the Sharks are winners in seven of their last eight, across the board, players know their roles and know who they will be playing with on a nightly basis. Chemistry is really starting to develop from all the lines and pairs and it is starting to show with quality, team wins. It also helps that both Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock are playing well between the pipes. This team is incredibly fun to watch right now.

11 thoughts on “Chemistry Behind Sharks’ Surge up the Standings”

  1. I reaaly like the Dillon trade. DW deserves some credit for that one. Demers was too small and was inconsistent.

    Andrew – I do not agree about Burns. As a D-man, he is playing over 20 dominating minutes a game. His mistakes are fewer and he is a catalyst on offense even from the D position. I really missed Boyle at the beginning of the season because he QB’d the power play. Burns does that and more.

    • Burns is playing awesome lately, but his defensive play the first two months of the season was atrocious, at one point he was a minus-9.

  2. I totally agree with your assessment ! Consistency is the main reason the Sharks are starting to roll right now. As you stated, the third and fourth lines are another big reason for this. I especially like the two rookies on the third line. I think they have raised Sheppard’s level of play. Finally, we have a third line that can show up on the score sheet. I think Karlsson is going to be a real good player, along the lines of Hertl. This might leave Nieto on the outside or on the trading block, unfortunately.
    I like how the fourth line is playing as well, they’re tough to play against and good in their own zone also.

    • Nieto is leading the NHL in corsi percentage, he is still a tremendously useful player and will get into the lineup over Scott/McGinn no problem.

  3. Fool’s gold. The 3rd, 4th, and defense are still weak and inconsistent. They are so “top-heavy” talent wise and they have nothing in Worchester if god forbid they get hit by the injury bug (to important players, not guys like Kennedy and Torres) like so many other contending teams have been hit. Hopefully, the key guys who avoided major injuries all last year like Thornton, Pavelski, Vlasic, Niemi, Marleau and Braun who missed ONE game combined due to injury until the playoffs stay healthy. That is unheard of when you look at the rest of the league. They are always one key injury away from being a playoff afterthought because of their lack of depth. Pray for near perfect health, that is a Sharks fans best strategy. If you think I’m wrong, ask yourself who steps up if a Thornton, Pavelski, Braun, Vlasic or Marleau goes down for a month or more? Couture? Nieto? Sheppard? Burns? Irwin?

    • Agreed on the top heavy part as of now, which is why i think they need to go out and get a dman to play with dillon, and move Burns up to forward. Then they might able to stand a serious injury to a key player.

    • A big part of the lack of depth is really because the team already has quite a few injuries. Nieto has already missed a decent amount of time, and while playing he was one of the best players in the early going (not putting up points but creating chances and playing strong in the rest of the zones. He had a horrific shooting percentage which tends to even out). Torres from what few games he has played for the sharks has been a very effective player and they miss him. Kennedy was playing well recently.

      So far Melker has impressed me but 2 games is a tiny sample size. The Shep+rookies line has looked good, and Shep really improved in the off season.

      • Shepp is a much more complete player than a year ago, faceoff % up from 45 to 54,

        I still think they need one more key top 4/5 dman, or a top9 forward

    • Not fool’s good, foolish fans who do not pay attention. It was obvious from the start of the season the Sharks would struggle with the hardest road schedule in NHL history, and that once they got home, got some home cooking and practice time, this extremely talented team would start to exert their dominance. Adding Dillon only added to this team and blend in the young kids like Goodrow who is a pest, and this is a pretty tough team. People mistake lack of execution for lack of depth, Sharks have skilled role players on the their 3rd and 4th line who are finally producing. Sharks are deep even with the injuries, they just need to execute. I hope people can now see the brilliance of signing Scott and why Brown was re-signed…..grit makes a difference. It is not a coincidence the Sharks have popped the Ducks in the face twice when a victory was necessary. Sharks are built to match up against those bigger teams. Teams tend to play better when they lose a major piece because players are forced to step and keep things simple. Of course they can usually only sustain that over a short period of time. If one of the big guys goes down, any one is capable of stepping up in their place, would not surprise me at all.

  4. Rather than reading such a lenghty and in depth article, I think it can be summed up by saying the opening road schedule was insane and they did not have time to practice. Now that they have practiced more, things are clicking.

    Hope this helps others who just jumped to the comments :)

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