SAN JOSE The Sharks' third and fourth lines have been in a state of flux virtually all season.
Recent acquisitions at the trade deadline, as well as the improving health situation, now gives the coaching staff plenty to choose to fill out its lineup as the season winds down. Tommy Wingels and Michal Handzus both returned for the Bruins game Saturday after five and six-game absences, respectively, due to injury.
Handzus, who has had a difficult season since signing with the team this summer from Los Angeles, centered the third line between Torrey Mitchell and Dominic Moore. He played 15 minutes and 12 seconds, all of it even-strength.
Hes been nagged with things for a fair amount of time, so to shut him down for awhile, hopefully we get a fresh guy back that can play to the end, McLellan said on Friday.
Wingels is a more intriguing individual. There is no doubt that the organization is high on the 23-year-old forward, and its easy to see why. Wingels has shown flashes of offensive ability, is hard on the puck, uses his body well, and already exudes a quiet confidence for a player well beyond his years. His development and maturity likely made Jamie McGinn expendable in the eyes of management.
Still, the coaching staff would not like to rush him. Wingels was seeing time on the top two lines before he suffered a pair of upper body injuries and prior to Marty Havlat making his return. In total, Wingels missed 14 of 29 games before Thursday.
I think Tommy has the ability and skill to play on a top line, McLellan said. Is it fair to put him there? If hes producing and confident, yes. If the burden is on his shoulders alone, then no. As long as he remains healthy and stays healthy, well continue to play him. Hell work his way into where he belongs eventually.
Although he played just 8:49 against the Bruins, McLellan mentioned Wingels versatility is a luxury. In fact, thats true of all his fourth liners from the Boston game, including Daniel Winnik and Andrew Desjardins, both of whom help kill penalties on a regular basis.
Its nice to get penalty killing from your fourth line players. Last night, Winnik and Desjardins were on the fourth line and Tommy Wingels has power play ability, so those fourth line players play more than just a go out on the ice role. They have some responsibility.
Desjardins, of course, helped set up the game-winning goal when he intercepted a back pass by David Krejci and fed Winnik on a rush the other way.
Another rookie, Desjardins seems re-energized since the coaching staff made him a healthy scratch for three straight games at the beginning of the month.
Desi has been a big factor in our team, McLellan said. I think he came to camp desperate to play here, and wanting to play here. We saw that for a nice period of time, and then what happens is you find yourself here and comfortable and you let it slip a little bit. I thought that happened with him, like most players.
He had to be reminded a few times, and now hes been a big part of our team.
Optional skate Friday: The Sharks practice on Friday was not mandatory, and several players did not skate. Ryane Clowe, who didnt skate on Thursday morning yet played in the game, was among the players that stayed off of the ice. Other than TJ Galiardi, who has an upper body injury, everyone should be available for the game against the Coyotes on Saturday according to McLellan.