PHOENIX – Goaltender Thomas Griess’ first appearance in three weeks wasn’t the only notable change to the Sharks’ lineup in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to the Coyotes.
Defenseman Matt Tennyson made a bit of a surprising return to the lineup, after sitting out for the previous eight games. It was Tennyson’s fourth career NHL game since he was recalled on April 1. He took the place of Scott Hannan, who has struggled at times in his first two games since he was re-acquired by the Sharks at the trade deadline.
Todd McLellan wanted to make sure that everyone on the roster is at least a little bit fresh with the playoffs on the horizon. Tennyson could be needed at some point, especially if Jason Demers’ sprained left ankle keeps him out for an extended period.
“With Demers’ injury we’re seven deep, and Matt hadn’t played in awhile,” McLellan said. “He needed to experience another NHL game, in case we have to use him next week, or if we do use him next week.”
Tennyson skated for 15 minutes and 10 seconds, was a +1 and had four shots on goal. He started the night with Brad Stuart before McLellan mixed and matched his defense pairs for much of the final two periods.
How did they look?
“I thought the D were very similar to the forwards – not quite ready to go to start with, [the Coyotes] overwhelmed us with their forecheck early – but as the game wore on, they started to handle it a little bit better,” McLellan said. “Matty’s game reflected that as well. He got better in the second and third. A young player that hadn’t played for awhile, you almost expect that.”
At the end of the game, Stuart was with Justin Braun; Tennyson skated with Marc-Edouard Vlasic; and Dan Boyle and Matt Irwin were partners.
McLellan said: “As the night goes on you see them flipped around a little bit and sometimes that’s due to fatigue and what they’re doing, but for the most part, the pairs stayed the same. The plan wasn’t to break them up.”
* * *
The importance of the Sharks-Kings game on Saturday depends on a few other results around the league, but there’s a good chance it’s going to mean something in terms of seeding or even home ice in the first round.
The Kings will be without captain Dustin Brown, who was suspended for the two final games of the regular season for an elbow on Minnesota’s Jason Pominville.
“They’ve got a number of weapons that can fill in for him,” McLellan said.
* * *
The Coyotes, who won’t make the playoffs, looked like the hungrier team against the Sharks on Wednesday night, especially in the first period. Why might that have been?
Here’s goaltender Mike Smith’s theory:
"There is a ton of pride in this locker room. I think there are 13 or 14 guys who don't have contracts for next season, so you have to play right (until) the end. It's not easy to get up for games when they don't mean anything, but it shows what kind of character the guys we have in here have when we play like we did tonight, and we will have to do that for the next two games."
* * *
The Sharks’ loss on Wednesday ended a unique streak in the Bay Area, in which not a single day in the month of April passed without at least one local team winning. The last day that any team played a regular season or playoff game and no team won, was March 16.