Kukla's Korner

Petshark: Talking Stick

Flatlining, or where did the fourth go?

That's six. I hate to think what the farmer's new bride would do to the person who crossed her six times, but I'm sort of relieved that the Sharks got this out of the way. If they were mystified about why they lost again, after doing so many things so much better, well, it could not have happened any other way. Once they lost five, the sixth loss was going to will itself into being no matter what.  That's a good thing, it means that this season isn't last season, it's more like the two seasons before the 2011-12 black hole.

TJ Galiardi, Adam Burish, and Martin Havlat... What in the world happened while I was testing out America One Sports? When I said the Sharks should just play their game, just go out there and do what they know how to do, I wasn't including Todd McLellan in that freestyle instruction. On the other hand, putting that line together touched on something I've been wondering about for years now: why have a traditional fourth line?

Why have one line with so few minutes, instead of flattening the minutes for all the lines and keeping everyone fresher? The concept of an "energy" line presupposes that the team has a number of players who cannot contribute in any way but to give the skilled guys a rest. Why doesn't anyone try to skip that and maintain a serious attack with all four lines? At the very least, it would confuse the NHL teams that are still laboring under a three and a half line system, which is most of them.

Of course even the old fourth line model does demand offensive activity from that energy line. That's how they are supposed to keep the other team busy while the top three lines get their rest. But if they were considered a real threat, why would you keep their time on ice so low?

What happens when a team breaks from that model? Teams do that, especially when they are playing wildly out of character, or when they have back to back games and need to conserve fuel. But in the second scenario they don't usually change the line configurations to take advantage of equalized ice time as they might. They didn't change the lines as much in Columbus as they could have, since the difference in ice time there was the smallest it has been in 2013. Havlat has played with Handzus, which is a demotion from the second line, but not one that makes such a loud thunk as falling to the fourth.

You don't often see a highly skilled player like Martin Havlat on a Sharks "fourth" line. It might be a stepping stone for a talented rookie but it isn't something McLellan often does to top veterans. Before Marty's fans flip out at the unwarranted insult, look at the TOI numbers: he logged a lot of minutes for a "fourth liner." He has hovered between one and two minutes behind the top ice time per game, and last night he played 2:45 less than Thornton did. That isn't much of a gap compared to the roughly ten minute average difference between highest and lowest ice time this season.

The ice time for the forwards on all lines was pretty darn close last night, and I don't think it was because the Sharks stank as a group. They didn't.

They didn't score either, but I never expect very much in that department when you jumble the lines up without even a practice between games. At least McLellan left the Sheppard, Handzus, Wingels line alone to start. And putting Clowe back with Couture is always a good idea, especially if you're putting a brand new guy with them. Clowe and Couture should remember how to play together.

On paper, Havlat with Burish and Galiardi stuck out like a sore thumb. In reality, Havlat played for eight seconds less while on the "fourth" line as he had in the previous game, where he turned up on the first, second and fourth lines. (Yep, he hit all three in Columbus before McLellan decided Havlat looked good with Burish.) Granted, almost four of those minutes in Nashville were on the power play, but minutes are minutes if energy is the concern. He had 22 shifts, two more than Clowe and the same number as Couture. In that time, Havlat managed two shots, same as Sheppard, Couture, and Kennedy.

The other part of the equation is that the other players on Havlat's line got more ice time than usual.  Burish had 11:24. He had seven seconds more back on February 2nd, but usually only plays eight to nine minutes.

Galiardi, whose ice time has bounced around a lot, stayed almost even with Burish. He got credit for three shots.  That was the second highest number on the team last night, and the most he's had in a game this season. Only Pavelski and Marleau had more with four each. It appears that Havlat's line did just fine despite being so hastily assembled and having less ice time than others.

McLellan didn't flatten the ice times as much as he could have, if he were really kicking the sides out of the old "energy line" box. But he did make the peculiar decision to adjust his lines so that they would have a chance of making good use of the time they had. It's a terribly small sample size, contaminated by lack of practice. It still makes me hope that McLellan could be toying with the idea of a system that makes more equal demands on all four lines, and in so doing gives their opponent less of a chance to target a "top" line. It seems like a lot of teams have the Shark attack figured out, the way people know to poke a shark in the nose to make it back off.

The Sharks are not fish. They can change their strategy. I believe they have the depth to do it, they just need to deploy that depth creatively.

Filed in: | Petshark: Talking Stick | Permalink
  Tags: adam+burish, fourth+line, joe+thornton, martin+havlat, time+on+ice, tj+galiardi, todd+mclellan


Matt Fry's avatar

I thought they looked like new Sharks at the beginning of the season but alas, I think now that they were the old Sharks, just playing against unpracticed squads.  These guys have all played together so long, it’s easy to get back into it.  I love what they did back in the day when Pavelski was centering the third line.  I think it gave them some valid scoring threats from three lines.  almost wish he’d try that again

Posted by Matt Fry from Winnipeg on 02/13/13 at 09:49 PM ET


The Sharks have more than enough talent to compete in the West.  However, as evidenced in the last half dozen games, they don’t appear to have the drive or heart to put in a full 60 minutes on a nightly basis.  The Nashville game was a perfect example as they played well in the first period and slowly let up as the game wore on.
Instead of trying to outwork the teams they face, the Sharks lean on their talent and when things don’t go their way, they can’t seem to kick things into high gear and play with some urgency.

Posted by grndlprm on 02/14/13 at 04:41 PM ET

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About Petshark: Talking Stick

Native of Northern California.  Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.

I want to know about anything and everything related to the sport and the spectacle.  I watch, I react, I write it down.

My interest in the Sharks was initially a matter of geographic convenience and regional loyalty because that seemed to be how it worked.  I had no prior interest (at all-- AT ALL) in professional sports of any kind.  When I met hockey, it might have set off a chain reaction of general sports fandom.  It hasn't, I don't think it will.  At all.

Since then, that interest developed into full blown (mostly sort of usually almost completely) exclusive loyalty to the Sharks.

I started blogging a couple years ago on wordpress. I still occasionally put things there that I don't think fit here because they are not about the Sharks. Wherever my words wander, here on Kuklas Korner, they will (usually) hang on to a teal thread.

I can be found in cyberspace on Twitter @petshark47, or emailed at talkingstick@petshark.net

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