The Sharks have had limited success in the last two seasons with defensemen Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson on the power-play, to the point that coach Bob Bowner said three months ago that the idea was scrapped.
“The experiment is actually over,” Bowner said on Oct. 15. “He just didn’t succeed.”
However, given the recent fight with the majority, it looks like the Sharks will make another attempt.
The Sharks had Burns, Karlsson, Logan Couture, Thomas Hurtle and Timo Meyer on top power, along with Ryan Merkley, Nick Bonino, Jonathan Dahlen, Noah Gregor and Jasper, on the Saturday morning ride before the Pittsburgh Penguins game. Weatherby all on the second block.
The Sharks have had Karlsson on one line and Burns on the other this season, as both players are most comfortable at the top right inside the blue line.
The Sharks are just 2-of-24 in terms of player count over the last 11 games and are now 24th in the NHL at 17.0% – up from 13th in the league and 20.0% five weeks ago, Dec. 10.
“I think we should go in and tune in. When we tune in, we will have excellent chances,” Bonino said. “I don’t think it’s a problem. I was in teams where you can get in, tune in, and then things kind of stalled. I don’t think it’s here.
“I think everyone is coming back, not just paratroopers. This is us stretching being an option especially for a high pressure team to give them an outlet and get them to cover for more guys. So for us it all starts in landfills. We have to get back in the zone, tune in and be proud of it.”
Using Burns and Karlsson together over the past two years, the Sharks finished 28th in the NHL with a power play percentage of 12.8% last season and 16.4% two years ago. Karlsson was usually on top and Burns was on the left flank in a one-off position near the faceoff spot.
However, having Merkley in the roster gives Bowner another option for how he wants to deploy his units. In the last two games, Merkley has been paired with Karlsson in the same powerplay block.
“I think the opportunity to get Ryan Merkley to play on the other block is what I like when he’s at the top,” Bowner said. “So it might allow us to have Burns and (Carlsson) on the same device, which we’ve tried in the past and had mediocre success with it.
“But in the end, if you get these two out (along with Hurtle, Couture and Meyer), you’ll have the top five players on the ice and they should get it done.”
LINE NEWS: Goaltender James Reimer is leaving the injured reserve, but Adin Hill will start Saturday for the Sharks against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.
Reimer has not played since Jan. 4, saying earlier this week that during the Christmas break, he had “exacerbated” health problems that prevented him from playing anymore. Bofner said Reimer was having lower-body problems and added on Saturday that the veteran goaltender’s health had improved and he could start Monday at home against the Los Angeles Kings.
The Sharks are not making any other roster changes as forwards Jeffrey Veehl and Adam Raska will remain in fourth place and Lane Pederson will be a healthy scratch for the third straight game since he came off the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. With Merkli and Jacob Meghna in the lineup, Radim Simek and Nicolas Melosh will both be scratched.
The Sharks, under a Natural Stat gimmick, created 16 dangerous chances and allowed the New York Rangers just six on Thursday and wanted to give the same roster a shot against the Penguins.
“Analytically, we are good in most departments, with the exception of finishing,” Bowner said. “Our expected goals (2.72) were good enough to win the game.”
Including Saturday, the Sharks will play six of the eight games before the NHL All-Star break against teams ranked in the top eight in 5-on-5 scoring. In those situations, the Penguins have 82 goals in 36 games.