SAN JOSE At various times this season the Sharks have had eight healthy defensemen on their roster, meaning two able-bodied players would be sitting out at any given time.
The Sharks have found a creative way to remedy that situation, lining up typical defenseman Jim Vandermeer as a winger on the fourth line.
For the second consecutive game on Tuesday night, Vandermeer skated as a forward. He played more than 11 minutes, noticeably getting into two fights with Jared Boll, but also making a good account of himself during even-strength play.
Its coming. Its a work in progress, Vandermeer said after Wednesdays practice at Sharks Ice.
Both games that hes played there, hes played very well, said Todd McLellan, also alluding to the Sharks last game before the All-Star break on Jan. 24 in Calgary. Very reliable, when he gets down low in his own zone, hes basically another defenseman.
Obviously, his physical attributes are something we need most nights. I like him there. I know hes a defenseman, I understand that, but to be a utility guy is a real good asset, too.
Vandermeers physical presence certainly came in handy against the Blue Jackets. Bolls hit on Thornton resulted in a long bout with Vandermeer, who was sticking up for the team captain.
Thats a key element Vandermeer brings to the ice, no matter what position hes playing.
I think in general thats more my style, when the bodies are flying, and guys take liberties, Vandermeer said. Boll hit Jumbo a little high that first shift, and it was good for our guys to respond.
KURZ: Boll fined for hit on Thornton
Hes not the only one on that fourth line willing to play the tough guy role, though.
Winnie (Brad Winchester) was ready to go. Hes like are we going? And I said its either you or me, you pick. We got on the ice, and Boll was more looking at me so I just switched sides with him and went at er.
McLellan admitted that Vandermeer, who missed 21 games with a broken hand from early December to mid-January, has a better chance to dress against teams that have more of an edge. That could include Thursday nights opponent, when the Dallas Stars visit HP Pavilion.
McLellan was asked if thats the type of game Vandermeer will be used up front.
Likely. It makes sense. But, that doesnt mean we wouldnt play him in any other scenario or situation, McLellan said. Some nights we just feel better about seven d-men. Maybe someone is not feeling as good, or is banged up or bruised. We could start him there with the ability to throw him back on defense.
Although the competition from the lowly Blue Jackets wasnt exactly fierce in the 6-0 Sharks win, the fourth line provided good early energy as San Jose jumped in front with a pair of first period goals. On one shift, in particular, they held the puck in the Columbus zone for well over a minute with a heavy forecheck and an aggressive, energetic style.
Were not a real offensive threat as much as the other guys, Vandermeer said. For us to go out there and get a couple hits and a good forecheck, it just leads in the next line going out there. I felt the first 10 to 12 minutes we had our game going, playing in their end, getting on the body.
Its not the first time Vandermeer has lined up as a forward in his hockey career. He spent some time there during his stint with the Calgary Flames in 2007-08 to 2008-09, as well as his Western Hockey League club in Red Deer.
In actuality, his expertise of the defense position could help him when it comes to being a fourth line forward.
Some of those d-men that go up front are often more reliable than the forwards that play up there permanently, McLellan said. They know how to play on the defensive side of the puck.
Odds and ends: Jason Demers remains out with a lower body injury and will not play against Dallas. Ryane Clowe skated on Wednesday and could return against the Stars. Forward Andrew Murray has sat out the last two games in place of Vandermeer.