Wingels primed to build on last season

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Wingels primed to build on last season

SAN JOSE There probably arent too many players in the league that are as frustrated as Sharks forward Tommy Wingels must be. For the first time in his career, the forward is assured of a place on the NHL club when training camp begins. Rather than getting ready for a slate of preseason games, though, the NHL's doors are currently closed for business, preventing Wingels and the rest of the team from the normal fall routine.

Wingels somewhat surprisingly made the opening night roster last year, but was quickly reassigned to Worcester after just five games. He returned in January, and scored his first career NHL goal on Jan. 15 against the Blackhawks in his home state. A pair of upper body injuries, including a shoulder, sidelined him for 15 games total in the second half of the season.

When he was in, though, Wingels showed the kind of reckless abandon that hockey management, coaches -- and fans -- love. The 6-foot, 195-pounder finished with 102 hits, fourth on the team, despite playing in just 33 games. He ended the year with three goals and six assists, and one assist in five playoff games against the Blues.

Hes now among a group of younger players on the Sharks that will be counted on to take that proverbial next step and contribute on one of the teams scoring lines.

Wingels knows it, and is looking forward to the challenge.

My last year was pretty good, but I personally feel like I can build on it. Like you said, I think theres that expectation from the team for me to do that, he said. Thats a challenge I have for myself. I think youre going to see a lot of guys, most of the guys here, build on what they did last year -- whether its guys who didnt do as well as they would have liked, guys who were injured, or guys who are just ready to take that next step.

Have a conversation with Wingels about the NHL lockout -- or anything, really -- and youd swear you were speaking with a longtime league veteran rather than a player who has yet to play even a full season in the pros.

But the 24-year-old Evanston, Illinois native, who was one of three Sharks to attend the NHLPA meetings in New York nearly two weeks ago, is supremely eloquent and thoughtful when describing the state of collective bargaining negotiations from his perspective.

You want to play as many years in this league as you can. In that sense, you want to be as informed as you can about the nature of the league and where its going; the shape it will be five or 10 years from now, Wingels said on Tuesday at Sharks Ice. Careers are short, so in one sense youve got to worry about now, but at the same time youve got to worry about future years and players that are coming up behind you.

As a young guy now, I try to ask a lot of questions, to guys who have been through it before and guys that are leading the charge now. The best thing you can do is stay as informed as you can. This is our livelihood here, so I dont see why guys wouldnt be informed.

NEWS: NHL, NHLPA returning to talks Friday

Although the uncertainty of the next CBA and salary cap limit played into the Sharks relatively dormant offseason, the expectation that players like Wingels will continue to improve and have a direct impact on the club has just as much to do with their lack of free agent activity.
That indirect vote of confidence from the Sharks' brass sits fine with Wingels.

As a younger player, thats what you want to see. Youve got confidence in your game, and when you play with great players, you expect a lot out of yourself. I know young guys like myself, TJ Galiardi, James Sheppard and guys that are newer in this league, the first couple years I think your development comes pretty quickly. There is a process of getting your feet wet and feeling out the league, and then your confidence and game takes over from there.

There are a number of factors that played into San Joses uneven regular season and first round ouster last season. A horrid penalty kill and untimely goals allowed by the goaltender are among them.

But, so was a lack of scoring from anyone other than the top two lines or the power play. After the club traded Jamie McGinn to Colorado on Feb. 27, the Sharks third and fourth lines rarely found the scoresheet. In the final 21 games of the season after that deal, the Sharks bottom six combined for just nine goals total while at even strength.

Wingels, who didnt score a goal himself in his final 21 combined regular season and playoff games, thinks he can help.

Id like to score some more goals, he said. Like you said, this team was missing that last year. If we could have found 20 or 30 goals collectively from a few guys, we would have been in a lot better shape. Thats something I want to contribute. At the same time, I think a lot of my game is played without the puck -- forechecking, being physical, playing well defensively. I think when I do all those things combined is when Im most effective, and the goals start coming.

For now, though, Wingels waits, along with the rest of the league. Hes considering going to Europe if the lockout drags on, but said he doesnt have a sense yet of which country he might end up in.

Its disappointing and frustrating, he said. You work all summer and prepare to start playing here, and you want to play games. We play this game because we love it, because the games are the most fun and best part about it. So, its disappointing, but theres an onus on you to stay and shape and be ready. Things can progress quickly, and I think thats what were all hoping.

When it does begin, Wingels wont take his assurance of a roster spot for granted.

You still have to have that chip on your shoulder, he said. Nothing is given to you, and ice time -- youve got to earn that. In that sense, my mentality wont change.

Three takeaways: Sharks make life easy on Avs rookie goalie

Three takeaways: Sharks make life easy on Avs rookie goalie

SAN JOSE – It took overtime for the Sharks to surpass the worst team in the NHL, but the points are valuable any way they come in the second half. Here are our three takeaways from the 3-2 victory on Saturday night…

1 – Top guys struggle, but depth comes through

It wasn’t a very good night for the captain’s line, which was particularly sloppy on Colorado’s tying goal in the third period. Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic weren’t much better, as the former was caught out of position a couple times, and the latter was tagged with six giveaways.

But those guys have been playing the bulk of the minutes lately, so they’re allowed to have an off night. At least, that’s how Pete DeBoer saw it.

“We've ridden our big guys pretty hard,” DeBoer said. “They played some tough minutes with some of the opponents we played this week, in L.A. and on and on. Tonight's a night you're looking for your depth guys to step up and give you some energy, and I thought we got that."

The Sharks’ fourth line was probably its best from start to finish, including Melker Karlsson’s goal, from Ryan Carpenter.

“[Tomas] Hertl's missed 30 games, so we needed somebody to come in and help us out in that area, and he's done that,” DeBoer said of Carpenter.

2 – Making it too easy on Martin

Spencer Martin was making his NHL debut in difficult circumstances, playing in front of what has been an incredibly loose team in its own end against one of the best teams in the Western Conference. But, the Sharks made it easy on him most of the night.

Avs forward Nathan MacKinnon, who had a tremendous game, told the Denver Post that he thought Colorado was the better team.

“Tonight, we outplayed them,” he said. “We outplayed the team that went to the (Stanley Cup) Finals last year, and there were some bright spots for us. We have to climb out of this hole and have a good last 30, 40 games here and go into next season feeling pretty good about ourselves.”

They’ll get another chance against the Sharks on Monday at Pepsi Center as the teams conclude their two-game season series. San Jose will try and give the Colorado goalie, whoever it is, a more difficult time.

“When we’re on our game, we’re making it tough with grind time and traffic at the net, some chances,” Joe Pavelski said. “Tonight we didn’t have as many as we could have had. We’ll try to find a little bit more for next game.”

Schlemko said: “We just didn’t have as much grind time in the o-zone as we usually do. If you’re not playing in their end you’re usually playing in your end.”

3 – Ward gets another on the power play

Joel Ward’s resurgence continues, as the forward again found a way to contribute on the scoresheet. His first period power play goal was one of the easier scores he’ll have, on a nice setup by Joe Thornton.

“[Thornton] had it behind the net and came around the side, and sent it to me on the far side, so it went in,” Ward said.

The 36-year-old Ward has nine points (3g, 6a) in his last 13 games. To put that in perspective, the last time he was a healthy scratch on Dec. 20, he had just nine points in 31 games on the season.

Sharks win 'ugly' vs Avs as they fight through brutal schedule

Sharks win 'ugly' vs Avs as they fight through brutal schedule

SAN JOSE – Playing their fifth game in eight days thanks to the condensed (some would say foolish) NHL schedule this season, perhaps it’s not all that surprising that the Sharks looked like they hit a wall on Saturday night at home against Colorado.

Still, this was the Avalanche, who have been far and away the NHL’s worst team for the past six weeks. Even a subpar effort should be enough.

And, it was. The Sharks got a power play goal by Joel Ward and another from their fourth line, while David Schlemko pounced on a rebound in overtime to push the Sharks to a 3-2 win.

It was an uninspiring victory, but a victory nonetheless.

“Two points is what was the important thing,” Ward said. “It wasn't our best, but we found a way."

Joe Pavelski said: “We had some moments where we were good. Some that we could have been better. It’s a game right now that you’ve got to really stick to your foundation, because there’s a lot of games in a lot of nights here.”

Coach Pete DeBoer, who has skillfully managed his veteran team’s rest since taking over at the start of last season, wasn’t all that critical of the Sharks’ effort, either, even though they made life far too easy on rookie goalie Spencer Martin making his NHL debut.

To DeBoer, the Sharks may be in the midst of their toughest stretch of games on the calendar. By the time they host the Oilers on Thursday in the final game before the All-Star break, San Jose will have played seven games in just an 11-day span.

“I feel the fatigue, and I haven't played a game. I'm just coaching,” he said. “We found a way to win. It was ugly, but we found a way."

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect from the Sharks’ perspective is that their fourth line continues to make an impact, scoring a goal for the third straight game. Ryan Carpenter got on the scoresheet for the second straight, floating a puck towards the net that was redirected by Melker Karlsson. It gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead with five minutes to go in the second period.

“I think we fit pretty good together,” Karlsson said of playing with Carpenter. “Good centerman, good guy. It’s fun.”

Pavelski said: “You can see [the fourth line is] playing with confidence. They’re playing hard. They’re in on a lot of pucks, and giving us energy that way, and they’re getting rewarded.”

The game-winner was a simple one from Schlemko’s perspective. He hopped over the boards, slithered towards the crease, and stickhandled in a Logan Couture rebound for his second goal of the season.

“The rebound came right to me and I just had to tap in,” Schlemko said. “I’ll take those any day.”

While the Sharks were fighting through some physical and mental sluggishness, Colorado looked better than a team that hasn’t won a regulation game in a month and a half. Playing in front of a goalie making his first NHL start likely had something to do with that, as they tried to give Martin an honest effort.

Nathan MacKinnon was particularly effective, generating a game-high seven shots and setting up Colorado’s first score. Just before that goal that was finished off by Mikhail Grigorenko, MacKinnon breezed through the neutral zone untouched, and Pavelski mentioned that area of the game as a troublesome one for his club.

“Whether they were good in the neutral zone or we weren’t as sharp – that wasn’t a very strong point of our game, I don’t think. Turned over a few too many pucks,” he said.

The Sharks will have a better idea of what to expect headed into Monday’s rematch in Denver. Whether they have their legs back by then is uncertain.

“It was hard from an energy point of view for us today,” DeBoer said.