SAN JOSE Down two of his top six forwards for the first time this season, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan had to play chemist at little bit more than usual for Tuesdays game with Calgary, looking for the right ingredients to his lines.
Marty Havlat is out until mid-February at the earliest, and Ryane Clowe was a surprise scratch with an upper body injury related to his face plant into the boards a week ago. That meant names like Tommy Wingels, Jamie McGinn, Benn Ferriero and Andrew Murray were all going to be in the hat for McLellan to pull from to fill out his Top 9.
The coach cautioned that his morning skate combinations, which included McGinn on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, were not set in stone.
Whoever is playing well is going to play, he said on Tuesday morning.
That experiment lasted exactly one period, after the Sharks generated just four shots on goal against the Flames in a scoreless opening 20 minutes.
Enter Wingels. The rookie, who only returned to the lineup on Sunday because of Andrew Desjardins head injury, had a strong first period playing with Michal Handzus and Torrey Mitchell. McLellan noticed it, and flip-flopped him with McGinn.
Although he didnt register any points, Wingels was among the Sharks more effective forwards and played a career-high 21 minutes and 23 seconds. Thats more than six minutes past his previous career high of 14:46 against Phoenix in this years home opener, keeping in mind last nights game went into overtime.
Of course, the fact that Wingels saw the ice in overtime at all was another credit to how strong his game was last night. He was on the ice when Justin Braun appeared to win it in overtime, and you can be sure that no one on the coaching staff blamed him for the bogus goalie interference call that nullified the goal.
You always want to start the game off with a couple good shifts and get some confidence going in, said Wingels, who scored his first career NHL goal on Sunday in Chicago. He switched up the lines a bit, but whether youre on the fourth line or first line, the mentality is to help this team win games. That cant change depending on the line youre on.
Yeah, he plays well, said Thornton, who also skated better in the second and third periods after an ineffective first. He sees the ice good and has a good shot. Hes a real good player.
There was another benefit to the line change. After he was reinserted onto the third line with Handzus and Mitchell, McGinn got back to the style of play that makes him successful. He was on the ice when Mitchell got the equalizer midway through the third period.
Its amazing how when guys get out of their element, or play in a situation that maybe theyre not accustomed to, or not equipped to, their game chances. Im obviously talking about Jamie, McLellan said. I thought when Jamie went back to the third line that line became effective again, and he did, too.
They are the one common three, if you will, and they worked hard for that goal, too. It was an ugly one, but in games like tonight where chances are at a premium both ways, youve got to score that one.