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Thornton & Pavelski: Making the Case for Splitting up the Joes

By: Andrew Bensch | Published: 593 days ago.


Despite leading their division most of the season, the San Jose Sharks sit just 22nd in the league in goals-per game at 2.45

Thanks to terrific puck possession, a strong blue line and quality netminding, San Jose has managed to win more often than not in tight, low-scoring affairs. 

That said, the Sharks certainly have the ability to bury more of their chances. They will likely need to if they want to hang on to the Pacific Division. 

The Anaheim Ducks are nipping right at the Sharks' fins with an equal amount of points (48) heading into Thursday's action (San Jose has played two fewer games).

Speaking of Anaheim, the Ducks have regularly split up long time forward stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry over the past two seasons. San Jose should likewise seriously consider splitting up their iconic duo of Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski

Perry and Getzlaf still primarily play together 5v5, but nearly 100 of Getzlaf's 528 even strength minutes this season have come away from Perry. Last season Getzlaf skated 420 minutes (38% of his 1,092 total five aside ice time) without Perry. 

Time To Mix Things Up

San Jose has tried all sorts of changes to their forward lines this season to try to spark the offense. Struggling forwards Mikkel Boedker and Joel Ward have played on every single forward line this season, from the top line to the fourth line. Other notable names like Patrick Marleau and Joonas Donskoi have also bounced around at least three different lines. None of Head Coach Pete DeBoer's subtle tweaks have worked for more than a short time period. Ergo, why not try something a bit more drastic? 

For some Sharks fans, the idea of splitting up Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski is blasphemy. Others will chastize yours truly for beating a dead horse. However, the fact of the matter is, splitting up Thornton and Pavelski has worked extremely well in the past. In fact, for most of Pavelski's career prior to Tomas Hertl's devastating knee injury in December of 2014, he actually didn't play with Thornton at even strength. If we recall back, Hertl's impressive rookie season (which got cut short thanks to a dirty knee on knee collision with Dustin Brown) actually came on a line with Thornton and former-forward Brent Burns, not Pavelski. After the injury Pavelski bumped up and formed an insane super line with Thornton and Burns.

Before the middle of the 2013-14 season, Pavelski's most famous line combinations were away from Joe Thornton. The stretch run and playoffs of 2013 saw Pavelski center a third line between Raffi Torres and Tommy Wingels. During 2011's stretch drive and playoffs, Pavelski centered a third line between Torrey Mitchell and Kyle Wellwood. In 2010 Pavelski centered the second-line between Ryane Clowe and Devin Setoguchi. And in 2009 he centered Clowe and Milan Michalek. While Pavelski has had his primary goal scoring success these last 2.5 seasons primarily playing with Thornton, he is more than capable of performing to an elite level away from Jumbo Joe. The two Joes are fantastic together, but they aren't currently lighting it up as a duo as they have in past years. 

Proposed Changes:

It sounds as if Hertl is close to returning from his latest knee injury, so I'll propose lineups with and without him.

Without Hertl:

Timo Meier---Joe Thornton---Joonas Donskoi

Patrick Marleau---Logan Couture---Kevin Labanc 

Mikkel Boedker---Joe Pavelski---Joel Ward 

Melker Karlsson---Chris Tierney---Tommy Wingels 

With Hertl: 

Timo Meier---Joe Thornton---Joonas Donskoi

Patrick Marleau---Logan Couture---Kevin Labanc

Tomas Hertl---Joe Pavelski---Mikkel Boedker

Melker Karlsson---Chris Tierney---Joel Ward 


As for the lineup without Hertl, surely some of you may be thinking "why would you put your best forward with your two most disappointing forwards"? Well, that is exactly the point of splitting up Thornton and Pavelski, to try and get other guys going. Pavelski has proven he can score from anywhere, and is an expert at deflecting pucks. The speed of Boedker on his left and the size and strength of Ward are good complements to Pavelski on paper. It is very easy to see how this line could be effective. 

The second line is something that used to work for a couple seasons, that is Marleau with Couture. It is a combination that struggled in 2014-15 (as did the entire team), but in 2012-13 and 2013-14 Marleau and Couture built up some great chemistry. This season Couture and Labanc have developed a nice chemistry together, so a Marleau-Couture-Labanc line could certainly work. 

As for the top line, Meier and Donskoi are no slouches as wingers for Thornton to work with. Meier is a big body who can score, similar to Hertl in that way. And Donskoi, while stylistically different from Pavelski in many ways, is the kind of right-handed shooter that could benefit from Thornton's passing. Plus, it's a very easy tweak to flop Labanc and Donskoi. Labanc could benefit from Thornton's passes as a right-handed shot as well, and last playoffs saw Marleau-Couture-Donskoi contribute a good amount of offense in the middle rounds. 

And finally, dropping Tierney down to the fourth line center role allows for the Sharks to utilize a fourth line that can do more than just break even. Tierney and Karlsson work well together on the penalty kill and are incredibly smart with the puck in the offensive zone. 

Some of you might think I'm crazy, but the Sharks need to improve their depth scoring, and none of the other changes have worked thus far. Breaking up the Joes is the one big wrinkle they have yet to try this season. Doing so could create serious matchup problems for opposing coaches. 

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