Sharks have options at forward

697716.jpg

Sharks have options at forward

SAN JOSE The Sharks' third and fourth lines have been in a state of flux virtually all season.

Recent acquisitions at the trade deadline, as well as the improving health situation, now gives the coaching staff plenty to choose to fill out its lineup as the season winds down. Tommy Wingels and Michal Handzus both returned for the Bruins game Saturday after five and six-game absences, respectively, due to injury.

Handzus, who has had a difficult season since signing with the team this summer from Los Angeles, centered the third line between Torrey Mitchell and Dominic Moore. He played 15 minutes and 12 seconds, all of it even-strength.

Hes been nagged with things for a fair amount of time, so to shut him down for awhile, hopefully we get a fresh guy back that can play to the end, McLellan said on Friday.

Wingels is a more intriguing individual. There is no doubt that the organization is high on the 23-year-old forward, and its easy to see why. Wingels has shown flashes of offensive ability, is hard on the puck, uses his body well, and already exudes a quiet confidence for a player well beyond his years. His development and maturity likely made Jamie McGinn expendable in the eyes of management.

Still, the coaching staff would not like to rush him. Wingels was seeing time on the top two lines before he suffered a pair of upper body injuries and prior to Marty Havlat making his return. In total, Wingels missed 14 of 29 games before Thursday.

I think Tommy has the ability and skill to play on a top line, McLellan said. Is it fair to put him there? If hes producing and confident, yes. If the burden is on his shoulders alone, then no. As long as he remains healthy and stays healthy, well continue to play him. Hell work his way into where he belongs eventually.

Although he played just 8:49 against the Bruins, McLellan mentioned Wingels versatility is a luxury. In fact, thats true of all his fourth liners from the Boston game, including Daniel Winnik and Andrew Desjardins, both of whom help kill penalties on a regular basis.

Its nice to get penalty killing from your fourth line players. Last night, Winnik and Desjardins were on the fourth line and Tommy Wingels has power play ability, so those fourth line players play more than just a go out on the ice role. They have some responsibility.

Desjardins, of course, helped set up the game-winning goal when he intercepted a back pass by David Krejci and fed Winnik on a rush the other way.

Another rookie, Desjardins seems re-energized since the coaching staff made him a healthy scratch for three straight games at the beginning of the month.

Desi has been a big factor in our team, McLellan said. I think he came to camp desperate to play here, and wanting to play here. We saw that for a nice period of time, and then what happens is you find yourself here and comfortable and you let it slip a little bit. I thought that happened with him, like most players.

He had to be reminded a few times, and now hes been a big part of our team.

Optional skate Friday: The Sharks practice on Friday was not mandatory, and several players did not skate. Ryane Clowe, who didnt skate on Thursday morning yet played in the game, was among the players that stayed off of the ice. Other than TJ Galiardi, who has an upper body injury, everyone should be available for the game against the Coyotes on Saturday according to McLellan.

Sharks get some down time with a break in schedule

Sharks get some down time with a break in schedule

SAN JOSE – A weekend with no games on the NHL calendar is rare enough. A weekend without any games or practices, though? That’s virtually unheard of in the middle of the season.

But with nothing until Wednesday's home game, and after a stretch of 10 games in 18 days, Sharks coach Pete DeBoer chose to give the players and staff a full Saturday and Sunday off. DeBoer and assistant coach Johan Hedberg were seen quickly scurrying from SAP Center a few short minutes after the game ended, while defenseman Brent Burns had his massive camouflage backpack stuffed to capacity while conducing his postgame media availability.

“It’s packed and ready to go,” Burns said, without going into any detail as to what exactly was in the bag.

DeBoer explained his rationale behind the respite on Friday morning.

“The way [the schedule] laid out after the month we’ve just had – the injuries, the stuff we’ve dealt with – it just made sense. We’ve got another push until the Christmas break after this with a tough schedule. 

“With our travel and the World Cup and everything, it didn’t make sense to come down here and skate when we had a chance to actually recharge mentally and physically.”

Although the team was aware of the break for some time, there’s no question that the Sharks have earned it. As they wake up on Saturday morning (presumably after sleeping in), they find themselves with a three-point cushion in the Pacific Division with a 15-9-1 mark. San Jose has won six of its last seven, including triumphs over perennial contender Chicago, chief rival Los Angeles, and the top team in the Eastern Conference, Montreal.

Their two longest road trips of the season are also already behind them, including a five-game trip in October and a six-gamer in November.

Joe Pavelski is pleased with what he’s seen so far, despite the challenging circumstances.

“Guys have handled it well,” said the captain. “There hasn’t been a whole lot of rest time, and we’ve found a few different ways to win, especially on nights that it hasn’t been easy. The biggest thing is guys have shown up and played hard. We’ve got a pretty good structure in here, guys are responsible, we’ve found a few goals, and [Martin Jones] gives us a chance every night.”

Joe Thornton said: “It’s been a lot of hockey. It will be nice to get a couple days after this to relax and recover a little bit.”

The schedule will ramp up again in short order. After three games in four nights next week, the Sharks will fly to Toronto and open up a four-games-in-six-days road trip with the Maple Leafs on Dec. 13.

* * *

The Sharks reassigned forwards Kevin Labanc and Ryan Carpenter to the AHL Barracuda on Saturday morning. Carpenter was a healthy scratch on Friday as Tommy Wingels got back in the lineup. 

It’s likely that the move was made at least partially because the Sharks are up against the salary cap, and that one or both players could return by the time they host the Senators on Wednesday.

Three takeaways: Sharks see similarities between Jones, Price

Three takeaways: Sharks see similarities between Jones, Price

SAN JOSE – The Sharks continued their hot streak with a 2-1 win over the Canadiens in a classic goaltender’s duel Friday night. The three takeaways from the game…

1 – Price, Jones similarities

Martin Jones was the standout star with his 31 saves, but the Sharks had to beat Carey Price on the other end to reward their own goalie. Price entered the night as the NHL leader in save percentage (.947), and third in goals-against average (1.68) and is probably on his way to another Vezina Trophy at the end of the season.

That the game came down to a battle in net was no surprise, as a prescient Pete DeBoer said Friday morning “we have to be prepared to win 2-1.”

There was talk after the game that there are some similarities between the Sharks emerging goaltender and the Canadiens superstar. 

“Actually, we spoke to [Sharks assistant/goaltending coach] Johan Hedberg about that, and he does see a lot of similarities between the two of them,” assistant coach Steve Spott said. “Their mannerisms in the net – they're both very, very calm. Both very quick. And both hockey clubs believe in their goaltenders. It was a great duo on that ice tonight. I think for any fan to see those two goaltenders was pretty special tonight."

Brent Burns, who won the World Cup with Price in September, said: “Very similar. … [Jones is] unflappable. They’re both big, very calm and great positioning. Very similar.”

2 – Strong start

The Sharks knew they were getting the weekend off from practice after the game, with no chance of any late changes as DeBoer and Hedberg were seen quickly departing for getaway flights after the final horn (that’s why Spott handled the postgame media duties). 

At this point in DeBoer’s second season, there seems to be a real trust factor between the coaching staff and the veteran team that no one will start their mini-break early. The Sharks were flying in the first period, jumping all over the Canadiens and seizing a 2-0 lead that Jones helped preserve over the final two frames.

Spott said: “It was good to come out like that and establish that momentum. We know how fast Montreal is and how deep they are up front, and obviously we know Carey Price. It was a good start. We were able to hold onto that."

“Whether you get the days off, you want to play hard,” Joe Pavelski said. “You want to come out [quickly], especially at home, at the starts.” 

3 – Escaping injury

Injuries are always a concern with so many games in so few days, and there were a few scary moments for San Jose.

The Sharks lost Kevin Labanc for a stretch in the first period after the rookie went hard into the boards on a hit by Alexei Emelin, but he came back in the second after he apparently went through some concussion tests.

Spott said: “He took a good hit. He came back. He went in and had to obviously do some [head injury] protocol.”

David Schlemko’s situation looked much worse, as the defenseman limped off of the ice and up the tunnel in the second period with what looked like a right leg or ankle problem. He returned midway through the third, though.

“It didn't look good when we saw it on video, but thankfully I think we dodged a bullet there,” Spott said.