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Game Preview #3: Donato’s Underrated Skill, Where Sharks Are Great/Bad in OZ?

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Credit: pasa47 (CC BY 2.0)

Simek the Radimer is back!

Can Radim Simek solve the San Jose Sharks’ bottom-pairing woes?

Also, Devan Dubnyk makes his Sharks’ starting debut and Fredrik Handemark will make his NHL debut.

What will Handemark bring to the San Jose Sharks? Uffe Bodin clued us in over the summer:

This morning, Bob Boughner commented on wanting more from his third line trio of Matt Nieto, Noah Gregor, and Ryan Donato. He added, however, that he’s been pleased with Donato’s underrated power play skill.

Also, Boughner and Gregor touched on something that San Jose is doing well offensively in the SPORTLOGiQ Pre-game Stat of the Night.

San Jose Sharks (1-1-0)

Timo Meier-Logan Couture-Kevin Labanc

Evander Kane-Tomas Hertl-John Leonard

Matt Nieto-Noah Gregor-Ryan Donato

Patrick Marleau-Fredrik Handemark-Marcus Sorensen

Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Erik Karlsson

Mario Ferraro-Brent Burns

Nikolai Knyzhov-Radim Simek

Devan Dubnyk

St. Louis Blues (1-1-0)

Zach Sanford-Ryan O’Reilly-David Perron

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Jordan Kyrou

Mike Hoffman-Robert Thomas-Tyler Bozak

Kyle Clifford-Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist

Torey Krug-Colton Parayko

Marco Scandella-Justin Faulk

Vince Dunn-Carl Gunnarsson

Jordan Binnington

(HT @lkorac10)

WHERE TO WATCH

Puck drop is 5 PM PT at Enterprise Center. Watch it on NBC Sports Bay Area, FOX Sports Midwest, or NHL.tv.

MORNING SKATE

“Last game, you saw spurts of it. But they have more to give.”

That’s what Boughner said about his third line this morning — and he’s right.

Despite their gaudy analytics, the first truly dangerous scoring chance that they created (per NHL.com’s play-by-play report and corresponding video) was after the Coyotes took a 4-2 lead halfway through the game.

This, for example, was an early low-grade chance that might be classified as high-danger because of its proximity to the net but isn’t really because of the sharp angle of Gregor’s shot.

This isn’t a criticism of this particular play, by the way.

“We’re trying to create that quick strike offense,” Gregor said. “That comes from getting pucks down low and having that guy in that sweet area in front of the net, finding areas in front of the net to get open.”

There’s promise here for sure, but indeed, this line has more to give. Can they set the tone earlier for the San Jose Sharks with their speed?

They’ll need more of this from the drop of the puck.

“I think we got our feet moving a little more tonight, Donato acknowledged on Saturday evening. “Last game, I think we were a little too reserved, waiting for the game to come to us, instead of attacking it.”

Speaking of Donato, it might be curious, considering the winger’s shooting prowess, that the San Jose Sharks are inserting him in front of the net on the power play. Keeping in mind that PP positions are intended to be very flexible for San Jose this season, meaning don’t count on Donato being stapled to the front all year, Boughner made an outstanding point on this.

“If you look at Ryan’s goals [in Minnesota], where he scored them from, he’s got good hand-eye, he’s scores a lot of them within five, seven feet of the net,” Boughner said this morning. “That’s why we decided to put him net-front on that [second power play] unit. He finds pucks.”

Micah Blake McCurdy’s HockeyViz chart, which breaks down all of Donato’s Wild even-strength goals over the last two seasons, confirms this:

The red markers denote all of Donato’s ES goals over the last two seasons.

In the big picture, that’s promising for Donato’s long-term outlook as an NHL scorer. Here, if you’re a one-trick pony — unless that trick is absolutely amazing — you will get shut down. Case in point, even Martin Frk, up to this point of his career, and his pretty amazing 109.2 MPH shot.

SPORTLOGIQ PRE-GAME STAT OF THE NIGHT

Per SPORTLOGiQ, the San Jose Sharks are fifth in the NHL with 8.63 Even Strength Inner Slot Shots on Net For per game. They’re in good company: Tampa Bay leads the league at 10.6.

This, by the way, is why Inner Slot Shots matter:

Part of the reason why the Sharks have succeeded in this category is how swiftly they’re working.

“We are trying to have that quick strike mentality,” Boughner offered. “When we turn pucks over, we want to bring pucks to the net right away in the first two, three seconds.”

So shoot quickly before the opposition can get set and take away the inner slot.

He cautioned, however: “But that’s a fine line. We also don’t want to be one and done. What we need to improve on is spending more time in the offensive zone.”

The above Gregor GIF, by the way, is an example of that “quick strike mentality.”

“I don’t mind the quick strike mentality if it’s there. But I don’t want us throwing blind passes if it’s not. I’d rather us protect pucks and get our ass out off the boards and have some separation and be a little more of a cycle team,” Boughner noted. “That’s not been an area where we’ve been great at. We have to wear teams down more and spend more time in the offensive zone.”

Indeed, per SPORTLOGiQ, the San Jose Sharks are 26th in the league in Even Strength Offensive Zone Possession Time (4:26). Can they start to create more Inner Slot Shots off the cycle? They’re just 19th in the NHL in Even Strength Shot Attempts Off the Cycle (6.17) — ironically, Arizona is tops in the league at 12.9.

So quick strike or hold the puck?

“That’s just a read you have to make for yourself,” Gregor said. “If you think you got time to hold on to the puck, you should do that. If you think you got a guy open, you make that play.”

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Steve Hwang

Thanks for the analysis, Sheng. Do you know if Brent Burns is contributing more to the slot shots strategy as he did in the post-De Boer games last season? just by the eye-test, I am still seeing a lot of shooting from the point at every opportunity from him.

Alaskan_ice

I expect some goals from this third line. There’s talent and speed. They’ll mesh over time.

Go Sharks!!

timorous me

I’d be interested to see Donato playing with more skilled players; he feels like the type of player who could really take advantage of such a situation. Not sure who he’d replace in the top six as it currently stands. Leonard might make sense, but it’s nice seeing him in that role for now. Maybe Labanc, depending on how that line produces? If nothing else, it’s nice to have a couple new young-ish guys (Donato and Leonard) to track the progress of this year, even if the team founders. And it’ll be nice to get to see what they have… Read more »

Erik Fowle

I was just thinking about this the other day. With the exception of the Hertl/Kane line, this team isn’t really built to cycle anymore. It makes sense given the personnel that the coaching staff focuses on getting the puck out of the defensive zone to a player with speed and creating quick-strike offense in the other direction. I suppose you could say that Meier/Couture can cycle, but I’m not sure Labanc’s strengths are suited for that type of offense.

timorous me

Good point. I worry a bit more about the way the defense may adapt–or struggle to adapt–to the new system in place, but I do feel like it’s a more promising (and exciting, for whatever that’s worth) direction than the team was taking under DeBoer.

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