Programming note: Sabres-Sharks coverage gets underway on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
SAN JOSE – For the first time this season, Joe Pavelski will line up to start a game as the third line center when San Jose hosts the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday afternoon.
That was the most notable change among coach Todd McLellan’s forwards on Friday, as he searches for ways to end the Sharks’ three-game losing streak.
Look for Pavelski to skate between Tommy Wingels and rookie Chris Tierney, who will likely be on the wing after sitting out the last two games after he began the season as the third line center.
Ironically, the moves were made more for defensive reasons than offensive, as the Sharks haven’t had a problem putting the puck in the net. San Jose is averaging 3.25 goals-per game through the first eight games, good for seventh in the league.
The issue is that they are giving up an average of 3.00 goals-per game, including 14 goals in their last three.
“We’re kind of going in waves where we have a line or two that’s responsible and then one that falls off, and it varies,” McLellan said. “It’s not just the top lines or the third or fourth lines. It varies. We’re trying to find some balance defensively.
“I think offensively we’ve been fine. I’m not too concerned about creating chances or anything like that. It’s the play in our zone, and it comes from a variety of different areas. It’s not just one thing.”
The Sharks’ top six forwards look to be Joe Thornton between youngsters Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto, while James Sheppard will get a look on the right side of Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau.
Pavelski led the Sharks in goals and was third in the NHL last season with 41, playing mostly on Thornton’s wing, but his place was always a hot topic as the Sharks struggled to find a strong enough bottom six to compete with the top teams in the Western Conference.
That’s still a major issue this season, and McLellan has experimented with all kinds of trios since Tierney was pulled from the lineup before Tuesday’s game in Boston, as Sheppard returned from a preseason injury.
“However you want to look at it, it’s all about getting wins and right now, we’re giving up too many goals,” Pavelski said. “We have guys capable up and down the lineup of getting the job done. It’s about focus, or competition level. Whatever it is, we haven’t gotten to that point yet.”
Wingels said: “[McLellan is] mixing things up, but I think our problem right now isn’t scoring goals. It’s preventing them. Regardless of what the lines are, that’s something we need to improve on. Pavs is playing with us as the third line center, great. I love playing with him. But, our first worry right now is the goals we’re giving up, and that’s something we’re going to have to change if we want to get more wins.”
As for the fourth line, Tyler Kennedy could be set to make his season debut after he suffered an upper body injury early in training camp. Kennedy skated with Adam Burish and Andrew Desjardins on Friday.
McLellan left the door open for Kennedy – who failed to stay in the lineup last season and was a healthy scratch in the playoffs – to suit up against Buffalo.
“I think physically, he’s close,” McLellan said. “Timing and conditioning, hopefully he’s getting there.”
“I’ve been skating for a while now, so hopefully I’ll play good,” Kennedy said. “It’s just the pace of the game now. You’ve got to keep it simple and play the game you know how to play. It might take a couple shifts, but I’m pretty confident I’ll come back pretty quick.”