While speed and skill are extremely important to a hockey player, the game is a physical affair as well with size and strength playing a big role. With that being said, many would not think putting the Sharks three smallest forwards (Scott Nichol would qualify, but he is currently injured) on the same line would be the best recipe for success. Yet, that is exactly what’s happened with Joe Pavelski, Torrey Mitchell and Kyle Wellwood.
“Sometimes you can’t understand why certain line combinations work,” Mitchell said. “It’s going well. We’re the three smallest (forwards) on the team, except for Scott Nichol who plays like he’s six-foot-six. Pretty much the smallest guys on the team.”
They are the only three active forwards listed under six-foot and none weighs more than 195 pounds. Nonetheless, the three have not let size become a factor against them.
“Three pieces that you wouldn’t think fit together, but they do,” Sharks Head Coach McLellan said. “Mitchy’s playing with a ton of confidence right now. Pavs is in the middle with the faceoffs and puck possession. The puck just follows Kyle Wellwood around and it’s never at a risk defensively.”
They have been consistent night in and night out for more than 10 games now.
“I’ve really liked that line,” McLellan noted. “It’s the one line that we haven’t tinkered with the last little bit. They’ve been quite responsibly defensively, but when we look at our chances, those three numbers keep popping up. Are they lighting up the scoreboard, no, but they are finding ways to play in the other teams’ zone. They are putting a lot of pressure on the second and third defensive pairings of the other teams.”
The trio is having fun as a group right now and seems to be playing bigger (pun intended) with each contest.
“You’re going hard, you’re working hard and always trying to score goals,” Mitchell said. “Having that level of confidence with the puck, that is huge to have.”
An important part of the surge is since the group formed, Mitchell broke out of an extended scoring slump that neared 20 games.
“I’m not a huge goal scorer, but you watch guys like Devin Setoguchi or Dany Heatley ring off ten goals in ten games sometimes and they are so confident,” Mitchell said. “I don’t know if I have that level, but I feel really confident. I feel like I’m playing with two really good players and if I work to get to those open spots, I’ll get the puck.”
The confidence is riding with more than just Mitchell as all three know before they step on the ice that scoring opportunities will come their way.
“It’s all about how you are feeling,” Wellwood said. “When things aren’t going well for you, you find yourself on the wrong side of the puck and you’re battling. When your line is going well and you’re skating well, you’re getting a lot of shots and it’s only a matter of time before you’re scoring. In the offensive end we can really pick pucks off the D. We create a lot of chances off that.”
Somewhere along the line a goal must be scored to win a hockey game, but defense is a priority in San Jose and the group is up to the task.
“It starts in our D zone,” Pavelski said. “We talk out there and it’s created offense for us. Everyone knows we can play and we’re showing up ready and that goes a long way.”
“I think so,” Wellwood said of his line playing both ways. “We’ve had a lot of strong defensive games. (As centers) we’re used to being in puck battles against bigger guys.”
Outside of the size similarities, everyone on the line is a natural center and is also a righty, a rarity with the majority of hockey players shooting from the left side.
“All of us have experience at center,” Wellwood said. “We’re able to all interchange.”
“If I get kicked out of a draw, Welly comes in and he’s won about every one,” Pavelski said. “We’re starting with the puck a little more. Everyone is pretty aware and wants to know what’s going on. Maybe we all come down that extra foot or two by the net for tighter support.”
“That (makes) us really solid defensively,” Mitchell said. “We’re taking care of our own end really well.”
It was asked if there was a nickname for the line yet.
“I don’t know, are we deserving of a nickname,” Pavelski joked.
BEHIND THE BENCH McLellan missed practice and will miss Saturday’s game to attend the funeral of his brother-in-law. Trent Yawney is the designated replacement for the night. Things are in a good place right now, so hopefully the club will rally with their leader out.
Drew Remenda will not be broadcasting the game (also attending the funeral) and Jamie Baker will fill in for the contest.
HOCKEY EAST 2010 first round pick Charlie Coyle has been named Hockey East’s rookie of the year.
NEXT GAME San Jose hosts St. Louis Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The contest will be on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com.