COLUMBUS When the Sharks acquired spunky center Dominic Moore from the Tampa Bay Lightning late last week and inserted him into the lineup, it was obvious whose place he was taking when he made his debut on Friday night in Carolina.
The 31-year-old center started the game between Jamie McGinn and Torrey Mitchell the same place Michal Handzus has been for virtually the entire season.
In fact, the Handzus-McGinn-Mitchell combination has been coach Todd McLellans most consistent threesome this year. That is, before Doug Wilson sent a second round pick to the Lightning in exchange for Moore and a seventh rounder.
Against Carolina, Handzus played a team-low of just seven minutes and 21 seconds while playing on the fourth line. On Sunday in Detroit, Handzus started the game on the wing with Moore and Jamie McGinn and played 13:03, still less than his season average of almost 15 minutes.
Todd McLellan gave his thoughts on Handzus season after an optional skate at Nationwide Arena on Monday.
I think Zeus has gone in spurts throughout the year where hes been really good, and then it kind of falls off a little bit. Right now, wed like to see him get it going a little bit more, said McLellan. Hes very much a pro. Youre able to sit and talk with him and communicate. He knows that. He knows it.
Handzus offense hasnt dropped off, as his 22 points in 56 games actually puts him ahead of his pace of 30 points in 82 last season while he was still with the Los Angeles Kings.
The more alarming number when looking at the stats is that Handzus, 34, has a -3 rating: not always an accurate number of how a player is playing defensively, but still the third worst on the team ahead of Colin White (-5), who has not been very effective this season, and Jason Demers (-7), who had a nightmarish October.
Even Handzus has a hard time pointing out what specifically he can improve upon just that he wants to play better.
Its all different things. Nothing specific there, but I know I can play better. Ive been through it before so Im just trying to focus on the positives and get better, he said.
Handzus is the definition of a consummate professional, and theres little doubt that hes helped McGinn improve in what is easily McGinns best season as a pro. McGinn has said numerous times that Handzus has helped him not just on the ice, but off, in terms of talking and communicating about what it takes to be successful.
While Handzus appears to be the quiet type in the locker room, it sounds like hes anything but when it comes to trying to help out his linemates and teammates in general. It's also the reason McLellan has said that Handzus would make an excellent coach one day.
As for the acquisition of Moore Handzus has been around long enough that he doesnt need another player in the fold pushing him to play better.
Thats got to come from within.
If I was to be pushed by somebody coming in, I think thats wrong. I know I havent been happy with myself. Moore is going to help us for sure, and hes a very good player whos played a lot of big games and played very well. I dont look at it that way.
Zeus has been a real valuable player to our team, McLellan said. When we play this many games on the road, we have to watch his minutes and have to watch fatigue. I think Dominic can come in and alleviate some of that, at times. Theyre both going to be important players down the stretch, and as far as we go.
Taking the option: The Sharks held an optional skate on Monday at Nationwide Arena, and the majority of the team decided to take that option and not skate on what was the midway point of the 16-day trek.
"Well try and use our time wisely and rest up, because we will be playing a lot of hockey from here on out," Joe Pavelski said.
The Sharks visit the Maple Leafs on Thursday, Predators on Saturday and Wild on Sunday before returning home next Tuesday to host Philadelphia.