While the San Jose Sharks will be missing Coach Todd McLellan when they face the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night, they've also been missing something else lately: Any semblance of consistent defense.
On its just-completed road trip, in which the Sharks stumbled and bumbled their way to just two wins in nine games (2-6-1) and lost to some downright lousy teams in the process, the club surrendered 35 goals. That averages out to 3.89 per game. To put that number in perspective, the Sharks allowed just 27 goals in 13 games during a 10-1-2 stretch from mid-December to mid-January, or 2.08 per game. Five-on-five play, which had been so strong all year, also took a step backwards. The Sharks were outscored 30-18 at even strength over the nine games.
Rather than target the blue line or between the pipes — where Antti Niemi starts tonight, trying to ward off a backup keeper push from Thomas Greiss — GM Doug Wilson opted to trade for two forwards at the NHL Trade Deadline in Daniel Winnik and T.J. Galiardi of the Colorado Avalanche.
At first glance, it's a nice depth move. But what it could do is lay the foundation for a legit checking line for the Sharks.
Winnik and Galiardi arrive after the Sharks traded for Dominic Moore, one of the NHL's better checking line centers. (Or at least move coveted, given his portability.) Michal Handzus, acquired last summer, is another defensive pivot on the roster.
McLellan likes to go power vs. power with his top line, putting Joe Thornton and Co. against other premiere lines in the NHL. But Mr. Plank of Fear The Fin argues that the two new additions to the Sharks might be able to take some of that responsibility away from San Jose's stars and establish a checking line:
Winnik's ability to drive possession and lap up the toughs like a famished kitten yearning for some milk (meow) makes him a player who will undoubtedly bust out the claws (godspeed Jamie McGinn!) in this situation. As we mentioned earlier in the day, Winnik's phenomenal defensive year last year where he saw some of the most difficult defensive zone starts on the team and finished first on the team in relative CORSI is an excellent sign that he's able to handle tough minutes with aplomb. Further bolstering that statement, and perhaps even a greater indicator of what Winnik is capable of, is the little nugget of gold The Neutral dropped on us yesterday-- "48 forwards in the league this year have appeared in at least 30 games and averaged at least 2 minutes shorthanded per game. Exactly zero of them have been on the ice for fewer shots against per minute than Daniel Winnik."
In a word, Winnik is an essential part of any successful checking line across the League and a player who brings massive amounts of versatility to San Jose in defensive situations (including the penalty kill).
As for Galiardi, "his unfiltered agitating style of play, excellent skating ability, and untapped scoring ability have me eagerly anticipating what he can bring to the table this season," writes Plank.
Joe Thornton, for one, agrees, having faced Galiardi in the 2010 playoffs: "I just remember T.J. running around pretty good in that series," Thornton said to Working the Corners. "I think everybody wanted to kill him. It wasn't just me."
For many, this deal by the Sharks was part of the cacophony of underwhelming moves at the deadline. But many also felt the same when the Boston Bruins traded for Chris Kelly, too. It's the little moves that matter most for championship teams.