Desjardins thriving after benching

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Desjardins thriving after benching

SAN JOSE The biggest challenge for any first year NHL player is maintaining focus and energy over the grueling 82-game schedule.

Andrew Desjardins is no different. The undrafted rookie, who made the opening night roster after being far from a sure thing to do so in training camp, has had his ups and downs in his first full season in the pros. It began with a bang, when he scored two goals in a 6-3 opening night victory over Phoenix way back on Oct. 8.

It took 69 games the number on the back of his jersey for him to double that output, when he found the back of the net against Colorado in the second period on Monday. His fourth goal of the season turned out to be the game-winner, and was the third time in as many games that his line, along with Daniel Winnik and Tommy Wingels, found the scoresheet.

I thought Desis line was probably the best line all night, Joe Thornton said after the Sharks 5-1 win. They played hard, worked hard, and were always around the puck.
RECAP: Sharks leap to 3rd spot in West, defeat Colorado
Thats our job, get the momentum back and keep the momentum going, said Desjardins, who signed with the club as a free agent in June, 2010. Thats obviously what were trying to do. It seems like were turning over pucks and were doing the right things, so we just want to keep moving forward and doing those things.

The coaching staff likely aided Desjardins recent resurgence and drive at the beginning of the month. He was a healthy scratch for the first three games in March, and the thinking was that the rookie may have hit a wall and lost his spot in the lineup. After all, center Dominic Moore was brought in from Tampa Bay, and Michal Handzus, despite a disappointing season, still can provide a steady and veteran presence on many nights.

Todd McLellan thought Desjardins, who suffered a concussion against Columbus on Jan. 14 after a violent shot to the head from the Blue Jackets Dane Byers, needed a break.

It got away on him, and he got hurt at one point in Columbus with the elbow to the head, and I think from that point on, it took him a little while to get going again, McLellan said. He was reminded he was important but didnt play a few nights, and now hes giving us some of his best hockey of the season when we need it.

Desjardins reflected on his time spent watching from the sidelines as a healthy scratch.

It teaches you or shows you that you have to do the right things, and do them every night. It definitely puts you in your spot and makes you stronger, and to not take things for granted, I guess.

Although he missed two games after the head injury in mid-January, Desjardins was thrown right back into the fire when he returned. Ryane Clowe, Tommy Wingels and Marty Havlat were all out of the lineup, and McLellan decided to plug Desjardins on the wing of the Thornton line for a stretch. In fact, Desjardins played more than 10 minutes in each of his first seven games after the injury, recording four assists.

The coaching staffs belief in Desjardins helped the players confidence, too, according to McLellan.

Thats where his season really evolved. You could see that he got confident at that point and blossomed a little bit more, said the coach. He really believed that he belonged.

Now, hes showing why. Desjardins seems to have settled in with Wingels and Winnik since the former returned from an upper body injury three games ago, and the coach is rewarding that trio with more and more ice time. All three played more than 15 minutes in the win against Colorado.

Its too early for Desjardins to think about personal success or what hes achieved in his brief career so far, though.

Im never satisfied. Im always trying to grow, he said. It comes down to more of a team thing now, where its just the next few games. We have to just keep going at it.

I havent really thought of it at all on a personal level at this point. Usually I wait until the end of the year. Im just trying to focus on doing what I have to do and help the team win right now.

Spoken like a true veteran.

Three takeaways: Fourth line leads the way for Sharks in Arizona

Three takeaways: Fourth line leads the way for Sharks in Arizona

For the first time in five tries this season the Sharks managed to secure a regulation win over the last place Coyotes, 4-1 at Gila River Arena on Saturday. They keep their four-point lead over Edmonton, and are assured of going into the bye week in sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division.

Here are our three takeaways from the win…

1 – Burns turns the tide…again

For the second time in a week, Brent Burns changed the momentum of a game with his deadly wrist shot. The Sharks were on their heels early – Arizona had a 16-9 shot advantage in the first period, perhaps jolted be a pregame ceremony – but Burns’ shot through traffic staked the Sharks a 1-0 lead and they were on their way.

“We kind of weathered their storm early,” Joe Pavelski told reporters. “There was a lot of energy in the building.”

It was similar to a game in New Jersey last Sunday, when Burns had a pair of second period goals, erasing a 1-0 deficit and putting his team on the track to victory.

According to Elias, Burns – who added a third period power play goal, too – is the first defenseman to score 18 goals on the road since Paul Coffey’s 22 in 1983-84. His 26 goals equal his total from last season, tying his franchise record.

“He’s having an MVP season,” Pete DeBoer told reporters. “He’s been that good for us all year and it’s every night. I don’t know what else to say. In my mind right now he’s the best player in the league, and we’re happy to have him on our team.”

Burns remains in third in the league in scoring with 63 points, four points behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid.

2 – Dell gets the job done…again

Getting his second start in a week, Aaron Dell made a new season high (and, thus, career high) with 36 saves. His best stop was early in the second period on Radim Vrbata, when he managed to snag a pin-balling puck from crossing the line, keeping the Sharks ahead 2-0. Had that one trickled over, the Coyotes might have been able to seize the momentum.

“I think I had it the whole time,” Dell told reporters. “I kind of saw it for a second and then when I turned back I was able to find it and scoop it underneath me.”

DeBoer said: “He’s been good every time we’ve put him in there.”

Dell, whose goals-against average is down to 1.95, outplayed Sharks nemesis Mike Smith, who had stopped 121 of 127 San Jose shots in three games this season.

“We got to Smitty in the first period, which was great,” Pavelski said. “We kind of know what he’s done to us the past few games, stopping a lot of pucks. … That was a big key for us.”

3 – Fourth line magic

Through two periods, the Sharks’ top two lines had generated a total of three shots on goal – one each from Joe Thornton, Kevin Labanc and Patrick Marleau.

Fortunately for the big guys, the fourth line was there to pick up the slack. Melker Karlsson posted three points (1g, 2a), Micheal Haley had one goal and one assist, and the fourth line generated all three of San Jose’s goals through 40 minutes.

One goal from the fourth line is a bonus. Three is virtually unheard of. 

“They showed up and played the right way,” DeBoer said. “Right from the drop of the puck they put pucks behind the other teams defense, they had good support, they created a lot of chances, and got rewarded for it. I think Dell and them were the difference in the game early through the first half, until we got going a little bit.”

Burns leads the charge, Sharks dominate Coyotes

Burns leads the charge, Sharks dominate Coyotes

BOX SCORE

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The San Jose Sharks were facing a team that had been playing well in an arena buzzing with energy following a pregame ceremony.

Once they handled the initial onrush, the Sharks struck first to subdue the crowd and their opponent.

Brent Burns scored two goals, Aaron Dell had a career-high 36 saves and the Sharks beat the Arizona Coyotes for the first time this season, 4-1 on Saturday night.

"We kind of weathered their storm early; there was a lot of energy in the building," Sharks center Joe Pavelski said. "We got to (Coyotes goalie Mike Smith) in the first period. When you get one or two on him early, it kind of breaks them down a little bit and play from behind. That was a big key."

The Sharks bounced back from a slow start in their last game by scoring two goals in the first period and another early in the second to quiet a crowd energized by a ceremony honoring the first Coyotes team in the desert. Dell was sharp in his 11th start of the season, and the Pacific Division-leading Sharks were good in front of him to avoid a season sweep (1-3-1) by the last-place Coyotes.

Melker Karlsson had a goal and two assists, and Micheal Haley had a goal and an assist for San Jose.

Burns, of course, was at the center of the offense from the blue line.

The NHL's third-leading scorer, he had a goal in the first period and his 27th of the season in the third to match the team record for goals by a defenseman that he set in 2015-16. It was his third two-goal game of the season and second in the last three games.

"He's having an MVP season. He's been that good for us all year and it's every night," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "I don't know what else to say. In my mind, he's the best player in the league right now."

The Coyotes could not capitalize on a rowdy, sellout crowd. Arizona peppered Dell with 29 shots in the first two periods but didn't score until Martin Hanzal punched in a rebound in the third, when they were down 3-0.

Hanzal scored his fifth goal in five games and Smith stopped 29 shots for Arizona.

"We were pretty good in the period and I don't want to say they were lucky goals, but they scored first and after that, it's hard to chase a team like the Sharks," Hanzal said.

The Sharks trailed 3-1 in the first period and 6-3 in the third before rallying for a point against Florida on Wednesday. On Saturday, they took an early lead when Burns fired a shot through traffic to beat Smith to the stick side.

Karlsson made it 2-0 late in the period, keeping the puck on a 2-on-1 and wristing one past Smith on the stick side again.

San Jose kept the pressure up early in the second, making it a three-goal lead when Haley scored on a one-timer from between the circles for his first of the season.

Burns stopped Arizona's momentum late in the period, wristing a shot that slipped through Smith's pads on a power play.

"That wasn't my best game. I thought our team did a good job tonight to give ourselves a chance to win," Smith said. "They were opportunistic in the first period and we couldn't capitalize on our chances and when that happens, you usually lose."

NOTES

Along with honoring their 1996-97 team — the first after the franchise moved from Winnipeg — in a ceremony before the game, Arizona also announced its all-time starting six, which included current players Smith, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and captain Shane Doan. ... Haley's goal was his first since March 5, 2016 against Vancouver. ... Hanzal moved past Pat Elynuik for 13th on the franchise list with his 116th career goal.

UP NEXT

San Jose hosts Boston on Sunday before getting a five-day break from all hockey-related activities.

Arizona hosts Anaheim on Monday before playing five of its next six games on the road.