SAN JOSE- On Sunday night the San Jose Sharks lost in regulation at home for just the second time all season, losing 4-3 to the surging Columbus Blue Jackets. The home ice dominance from San Jose is a tremendous feat to be sure. But just like in their previous regulation home loss, a 5-3 loss (with empty netter) against Chicago on Feb. 5, yours truly has a major beef with Sharks head coach Todd McLellan.
In February, I questioned why McLellan didn’t use Jason Demers on defense (a strong skater) against the strong skating Blackhawks. Sunday, the beef was why replace the injured Demers with a defensive defensemen in Scott Hannan instead of a fellow puck mover like Matt Tennyson?
Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart (a left-handed shooter) has played his best hockey this season with a right-handed puck moving defenseman by his side. When Demers was injured with a concussion a couple of weeks ago, Tennyson filled in great. The rookie defender played three games, picked up two assists and was a plus-1.
Stay at home type defensemen are better suited with puck movers. Left handed defenseman are better suited with right handed defensemen. This is why Stuart and Demers, and Stuart and Tennyson have worked better than the Stuart-Murray pairing. The Stuart-Murray duo was stifling the sharks transition game for a good portion of the season leading up to the 11-2-1 stretch. It’s no coincidence that the Sharks hot streak started the very first game after trading Murray away to Pittsburgh.
In those 14 games since the Murray trade (prior to the Columbus loss Sunday), the Sharks had played every game with three right-handed puck moving defenseman and three left handed defensive defensemen all paired with one of the opposite.
And a big reason for the turnaround were better breakouts out of the defensive zone, AKA the transition game. In the first two periods against Columbus, San Jose struggled mightily getting the puck out of their own zone, especially with the pair of Stuart and Hannan on the ice. Those two spent the entire first shift of the game defending in their own zone and miscommunication between the two led directly to a goal against in the second period. The miscommunication came when Stuart’s pass didn’t connect to Hannan (who wasn’t expecting it). The subsequent turnover that ensued resulted in a breakaway goal for the Jackets. Typically, a puck moving defenseman like Tennyson would always be looking to receive a pass in that situation.
Sharks star center Logan Couture acknowledged his squad’s sloppiness on the break out during those first 40 minutes.
“We turned way too many pucks over in the first two periods. They played in our end because of that.”
Stuart and Hannan as a pairing, just like Stuart and Murray, is like a peanut butter and peanut butter sandwich. The perfect combination is peanut butter and jelly.
If you ask my opinion, Tennyson was the slam dunk option to fill back in for Demers like he had done previously. So what did McLellan have to say about the lineup decision during his post-game presser?
“We liked the way Scotty played the other day, [it was an] easy choice for us.”
I liked the way Hannan played the other day too coach, I wrote about it here, but that was playing alongside a puck mover in Dan Boyle. Playing with Stuart is not the same thing, not even close.
Hockey fans following me all season long have heard me criticize McLellan quite a bit. And McLellan’s decision not to keep the defense pairs in perfect ideal harmony is yet another move which baffles me to my hockey core.
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