San Jose Sharks Game 3 Game Plan

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As the Stanley Cup Final shifts to the Bay Area, the San Jose Sharks Game 3 game plan should include, or at least be considering, some adjustments.

As outlined before, the Sharks road to the Final has leaned heavily on a solid defensive corps that head coach Peter DeBoer trusted with a relatively even distribution of minutes. No San Jose defender was in the top 20 in time on ice and during the long series against the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues, the extra energy helped. In the first three rounds to emerge from the tough Western Conference, Roman Polak, and Brenden Dillon both averaged around 15 minutes of ice-time per game. A respectable number that helped keep the top pairings fresh.

Sharks Game 3 Game Plan: Defensive Changes

Trading for Polak was a move general manager Doug Wilson made when evaluating the landscape of the Western Conference, and a big-bodied, right-handed shot defender is a valuable commodity at the trade deadline. Dillon and Polak have played within themselves, and both players put their work in every night. Polak dutifully performed against the big teams in the West, but now the needs of the team have shifted as their opponent is faster and more talented.

With an admittedly small sample size of two games, Pittsburgh Penguins defender Kris Letang leads defensemen at nearly 28 minutes per night, but the Sharks top shut-down pairing of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun are both trailing rookie Brian Dumoulin. Due mostly to the heroics of Martin Jones, the Sharks had a chance to win both games thus far despite being outplayed and out chanced. The Penguins are an exceedingly fast and talented team with three lines that are the most dangerous San Jose has faced thus far.

There is the case to consider rookie defenseman Dylan DeMelo, who offers more speed and a better outlet pass on the third pairing. As a right handed shot, DeMelo would likely be swapped in for Roman Polak as DeBoer is seemingly on board with the righty/lefty deployment scheme. While it might look good on paper, DeMelo has not played a game since April 9 and shaking off the rust in a must-win Game 3 is less than ideal. Could DeBoer dress seven defensemen? Taking out Nick Spaling or Tommy Wingels to shift ice time up the depth chart could be positive for the forwards as well. Every option needs to be evaluated if the Sharks hope to get back into this series.

At the very least, DeBoer has to be considering a significant shortening of his defensive bench now that the Sharks have carefully managed the defense’s ice time through three tough rounds. Burns is the most dangerous Sharks defenseman, and more shifts will give him more opportunities to make an impact in the game. Burns is also the only defenseman with a positive Corsi For event rating, but at only a +2 he needs to do more as an important piece of both the San Jose defense and offense.

The NHL regular season marathon is nearing its end. In the Stanley Cup Final, the finish line is in sight, and no amount of energy should be held in reserve. Now trailing the Penguins two games to none, the deployment on the blue line needs to shift. After 102 games during the 2015-16 regular and postseason, the next handful of games will decide the Sharks season. There will be a lot of time to rest starting on June 16th but for now, more work must be done.

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