Early 2013-14 Grades for Each San Jose Sharks Line

Emily Teachout@eteachoutContributor IIIOctober 21, 2013

Early 2013-14 Grades for Each San Jose Sharks Line

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    What a start for the 2013-14 San Jose Sharks, the last remaining team without a regulation loss. A shootout loss to the Dallas Stars is the only flaw in an otherwise perfect 7-0-1 record.

    Offensively, San Jose has been an early season juggernaut. They lead the league in shots, shots per game, goals, goals per game and power play goals.

    But it’s not just the quantity of offense produced by the Sharks’ that’s impressive; it’s the breadth as well. The Sharks’ have seen 14 different players light the lamp thus far, and every single skater on the bench for the Sharks’ most recent game has at least one point.

    Even Antti Niemi even has a pair of assists to his credit.

    When it comes to grading the San Jose Sharks’ forward lines at this point in the 2013-14 season, it would be pretty easy to throw A's across the board and be done with it. So let’s dig a little deeper.

    Here are the early 2013-14 grades for the San Jose Sharks' forward lines.

Line 1: Joe Thornton, Brent Burns, Tomas Hertl

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    No line has garnered more early season attention than San Jose’s odd trio of Thornton, Burns and Hertl.

    Second in offensive production only to Pittsburgh’s line of Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, the Sharks’ top line has flourished early.

    There was a notable difference last season when head coach Todd McLellan chose to surround his captain with big personalities like Burns and TJ Galiardi. Thornton appeared rejuvenated on the ice, and the exhausted expression of the Cup-less veteran appeared re-energized, even giving way to the occasional smile.

    Now, with Galiardi in Calgary and his spot filled by the league’s top-scoring rookie, the Sharks top line is downright scary—in more ways than one.

    Hertl, at 6’2” and 210 pounds, is the smallest member of the imposing line that has combined for 23 points (10 G, 13 A) and a cumulative plus-24 through eight games.

    But the Sharks’ top line is not without flaw. The line combined for zero points and a minus-five in the Sharks’ only hiccup this season, the shootout loss to the Dallas Stars.

    Even with that lackluster performance against the Stars and the long road ahead of them, this line has been nothing short of impressive early on.

    Grade: A

Line 2: Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Tyler Kennedy

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    The Sharks’ second line has not received quite the fanfare surrounding the first line but the drop-off in skill and production between the two is negligible.

    The second line of Couture, Marleau and newcomer Kennedy has been the starting line for most of the Sharks games thus far and exemplify the Sharks' torrid pace and strong play at both ends.

    Kennedy still appears to be struggling a bit trying to find his fit on the line. The Sharks had to be relieved when he finally broke through and scored his first goal of the season in Dallas. Still, more production must be expected from him with such potent linemates.

    Meanwhile, Marleau has quietly been the only Shark to record a point in each of the team’s games thus far—a streak matched by only two players leaguewide. (Crosby and Calgary’s Jiri Hudler are the others.)

    Despite gaudy stats (12 G, 13 A) from this line early, Marleau and Couture have combined to earn 12 of those points (5 G, 7 A) on the power play, leaving the Sharks’ second line with more pedestrian production levels at even-strength.

    This line’s production shows no signs of slowing down, but until Kennedy’s play warrants his retention of the spot, it feels like there’s still a bit left to be desired.

    Grade: B+

Line 3: Joe Pavelski, Tommy Wingels, Matthew Nieto

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    The Sharks’ third line does everything you’d ask of a third line: puck possession, hitting and board play. But that would be selling them drastically short.

    As offensively potent as the team’s second line (4 G, 10 A), the Sharks’ third line has created a matchup nightmare for teams early on. While all three players are more than willing to dig along the boards and possess the puck in true third line fashion; this line is also blessed with speed to burn in open ice with youngsters Nieto and Wingels.

    Meanwhile, Pavelski serves as the perfect symbol of the Sharks’ embarrassment of riches offensively. The newly minted center also perfectly embodies the Sharks’ new philosophy for line combinations.

    Loading up lines is for the power play or to add an extra attacker in a late push for a game-tying goal. But over the course of a 60-minute game, spreading the talent and letting players like Pavelski infuse their linemates with skills and opportunities not normally seen on a third line has placed the Sharks a cut above the rest.

    With two key forwards still out due to injury it’s anyone’s guess what this line will look like at the end of the season. Nieto has made a strong case to stay in the lineup but could be the odd man out down the road.

    But in the meantime, nobody’s holding his or her breath.

    Grade: A-

Line 4: Andrew Desjardins, James Sheppard, Matt Pelech

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    Phew! After all that firepower in the first three lines the Sharks are bound to have something dynamic cooked up for their fourth line, right?

    No, not really. But every team needs a fourth line, and the Sharks have a solid group filling that role.

    Desjardins has been solid at the faceoff dot thus far, winning more than 50 percent of his draws. Cumulatively, the trio has logged a goal and five assists and is respectable even for its plus-minus.

    The plus-minus statistic tends to be very indicative of a team’s fourth line value. Gone are the days of fourth line goons whose sole purpose is to intimidate while offering as much skill on the ice as a practice pylon.

    A team’s fourth line is not expected to produce offensively, but it is expected to keep the puck out of its own net. Currently, Sheppard’s minus-two is the only negative on the Sharks’ roster.

    Like the third line, this line will also see some movement as the season goes on. The injured Raffi Torres could fill Pelech’s role down the line.

    Grade: B