The San Jose Sharks are playing their best hockey of the season so far, having put together a three-game winning streak to conclude their road trip. While numerous players have stepped up, the team’s bottom-two forward lines deserve a tremendous amount of credit for their performance across these games. They have shown hustle and tenacity at both ends of the ice, and their work has paid off on the stat sheet as well, suggesting that their production will be important in upcoming games.
Crucial Goals Scored Against Wild and Golden Knights
After fourth-line left wing Evgeny Svechnikov started the trend by scoring a goal against the Dallas Stars that was assisted by both of his linemates, the rest of the Sharks’ bottom-six forwards piled on in the next two games.
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In the matchup against the Minnesota Wild on Sunday (Nov. 13), perhaps it’s appropriate that the Sharks’ bottom six engineered a comeback in a game in which their top forwards struggled to produce. After the team was shutout for nearly 50 minutes, fourth-line center Steven Lorentz won a race in the Sharks’ offensive zone, and he and linemate Oskar Lindblom moved the puck around, eventually leading to Lorentz putting home a rebound that cut Minnesota’s lead to 2-1.
The fourth line had re-energized the team, and a third liner returned the favor less than two minutes later. After the officials missed a tripping call on the Sharks, center Nico Sturm took advantage of the break, receiving a pass and heading up the ice aggressively before firing a shot that took Wild goalie Filip Gustavsson by surprise.
Sturm’s approach to the goal served as a microcosm of the lower forwards’ mentality in the final stretch of regulation. In the moment, he decided that his best option was to take matters into his own hands, and his decision paid off. Similarly, all of the bottom-six forwards played with assertiveness and put themselves in control of the game. As the clock counted down on their team’s chances to win, they recognized an opportunity to flip the outcome rather than defer to anyone else. They played with confidence and decisiveness, and it worked. The game eventually went to a shootout, where the Sharks won thanks in part to a successful attempt by another third-liner, Nick Bonino.
The bottom-six only combined for one goal against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday (Nov. 15), but it came at a critical time. The Golden Knights scored the first goal of the game with just four seconds remaining in the first period and entered the second with significant momentum. The Sharks must have felt disappointed, having missed an opportunity to tie the first period against such a good team.
With the third line on the ice about eight minutes into the second, Sturm and Bonino hustled to get multiple loose pucks in the San Jose offensive zone. After some puck movement and a shot from the blue line, fellow third-liner Luke Kunin buried a rebound to even the score at a goal apiece.
This goal wasn’t the turning point of the game, but it was essential to the victory. Before the goal, it felt as though the Golden Knights had a chance to run away with the win, given how their first goal had uplifted them and demoralized the Sharks. By tying the game, Kunin gave his team new life, and they played much more competitively the rest of the way.
Vital on the Penalty Kill
While the third and fourth lines may have been the most important on offense during the win streak, their defense has proved fundamentally valuable as well. Kunin, Sturm, Bonino, and Lorentz all received substantial ice time while the Sharks were shorthanded, and served as part of a penalty-kill unit that didn’t allow a goal across six opportunities through the three games. They played an ideal blend of aggressively approaching puckhandlers and dropping back when needed. They also made good decisions when they came into possession of the puck, making constant clearances that prevented their opponents from generating any power-play rhythm. All four of them recognized their roles within the unit when on the ice, and contributed brilliantly to a penalty kill that currently stands as the NHL’s second-best.
Continuing the Momentum
The last three games have generated energy and momentum for the Sharks, bringing hope that the bottom six’s performance can help improve an offense that is currently 25th in the league in goals per game. The game against the Golden Knights, which was undoubtedly their best performance of the season, provided the most hope out of the three games. The bottom forwards played well and contributed a goal, but the top two lines chipped in three of their own as well.
For a team like the Sharks, which may not have quite as much offensive firepower as some of the other clubs in the league, it is imperative that scoring comes from up and down the lineup, rather than just a few star players. A balanced scoring attack will give them a chance to be competitive in every game. If they can maintain the patterns that have emerged in this winning streak — which will take a concerted effort from everyone involved — they will have a chance to make noise in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference.
Alex Hutton is a San Jose Sharks contributor at The Hockey Writers. A native of Oakland, California, he recently completed his master’s degree at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Alex has written about a wide range of sports for various publications and is excited to provide Sharks content for THW. Follow him on Twitter here.