The Sharks last faced the Blackhawks less than a week ago, but they're now a much different team.
That's obvious, as the trade deadline happened three days after their Feb. 23 loss in Chicago, and they acquired Evander Kane. The 26-year-old forward made a strong first impression, picking up two assists in his first game with San Jose on Tuesday.
But Kane arguably had a bigger influence on the Sharks' lineup than on the scoresheet. Head coach Peter DeBoer skated Kane on Joe Pavelski's wing, opposite winger Joonas Donskoi, and that decision affected the rest of the lineup.
Timo Meier, who was skating with Pavelski and Donskoi, moved down to Chris Tierney's wing on the third line. Kevin Labanc moved there too, after spending most of the last month with Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture (106:22 together in five-on-five situations), while Mikkel Boedker then played with Hertl and Couture.
The impact of having another top-six forward in the lineup, after having one (or two) fewer since Joe Thornton's MCL injury in late January, was obvious. Kane, Pavelski, and Meier not only accounted for two goals together, but for 65.22 percent of the shot attempts, 72.73 percent of the scoring chances, and 100 percent of the high-danger chances when they were on the ice together on Tuesday, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Meier, Tierney, and Labanc weren't necessarily as sterling together (50 percent shot attempts and scoring chance share, 60 percent high-danger chance share), but Meier in particular thrived in his new spot. He had seven, five-on-five shots when no other Shark had more than three, and accounted for six scoring chances and six high-danger chances in five-on-five situations on Tuesday.
It was just the first game with Kane in on the lineup, and it did come against the lowly Edmonton Oilers. The Sharks are going to face better, deeper teams than the Oilers in the postseason, but the early returns are nonetheless pretty encouraging.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have won the last two Stanley Cups, at least in part, because of their ability to create matchup problems with their depth. By deploying Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel on separate lines, opponents are left with a difficult choice of which line to focus on.
Meier is not Kessel, but deploying him on the third line, as opposed to the first, makes San Jose a much deeper team. Thanks to Monday's trade, the Sharks can continue to do just that.