Minnesota Wild (30-27-5) at San Jose Sharks (42-11-9)
(And no, I'm not talking about Fallout 3, one of the greatest god damn video games ever made. But seriously, you should play it. It's that good.)
A few weeks back, the boys at Illegal Curve asked me to write a piece on what the Sharks needed at the trade deadline. I responded with depth support and good health.
Well, Doug Wilson did that, grabbing plucky defensive forward Travis Moen (or as the guy who sits behind me used to put it, "I hate fucking Travis Moen!") and somewhat-better-than-Alexei-Semenov defenseman Kent Huskins. Huskins, while not the second coming of Bobby Orr by any stretch, will fit in fine in the 5/6 role. I don't think anyone's expecting anything more, and as long as he pushes Semenov -- who has admittedly been better over the past few weeks -- down the depth chart, I'm ok with it.
Moen is the key to this all. Did you really think the Sharks were going to give Jody Shelley a regular shift in the playoffs? Assuming everyone is healthy (there's been word that Marcel Goc and Torrey Mitchell are skating together; hopefully that's a good sign), you've got a logjam of interchangeable parts. I'm hoping the lines eventually shake out to this:
Why move JR to the wing with Mitchell and Roenick? Cheechoo has improved the defensive and gritty aspects of his game lately, but still needs talent to get him the puck. With Roenick missing about half the season, he should have the gas to go the distance (play most games around 12 minutes a night) during the playoffs. Let's assume that the reports of Mitchell skating are good indicators and he gets in about 10 games prior to the playoffs; Mitchell's speed and offensive upside work well at generating turnovers and creating scoring chances. Roenick's got enough skill and savvy left to still make good plays and this combination can hopefully generate some offense out of the third line.
A checking unit of Moen/Goc/Grier will be a strong, reliable defensive asset. Goc is the best faceoff guy on the team, Grier (when healthy) is as reliable as they come for defensive situations, and Moen will hopefully complement them like he did with Pahlsson and Niedermayer in Anaheim.
The real benefit of having the lines distributed like this is that you can even out the minutes a little more. When the fourth line was Shelley/Lemieux/AHL call up, of course it's going to be 6-7 minutes. Now you can get the fourth line out there on a regular shift. Perhaps more importantly, they'll be ready and able to match up against the other team's top line.
And, of course, depending on who's got it going on a particular night, Todd McLellan can emphasize one line over the other. I know things look rough right now, especially the penalty-filled meltdown against Dallas, but I'm not going to pass too much judgment until the 3rd and 4th lines get healthy and settled. Otherwise, it's almost like a beer league game where a guy skates to the bench and yells out his position to get the next sub out there.
If the team can get healthy, if they have enough time to get some consistent lines and regular shifts back in their game, then I like the way this team compares to any other team in the league.
Oh, and there's a game tonight against Minnesota. The Mercury News reported that Moen and Huskins won't be in the lineup tonight but there's no word yet if additional reinforcements are coming from Worcestor or if Evgeni Nabokov will be game ready. I'm guessing Jamie McGinn will be back for a complete fustercluck of forward lines.
Prediction: Sharks 4, Wild 1. The return of the pizza with goals by Boyle, Michalek, Setoguchi, and a lucky bounce off of one of the AHL dudes.