Sharks have options at forward

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Sharks have options at forward

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.

Sharks' Hertl taking contact, getting closer to return

Sharks' Hertl taking contact, getting closer to return

SAN JOSE – Sharks center/forward Tomas Hertl has taken another step in his recovery from a right knee sprain and subsequent surgery.

The 23-year-old is now doing contract drills, and called himself “almost day-to-day now” on Saturday.

“Last two days I’m working on battles, and I feel pretty good,” Hertl said. “Everything is going right. Hopefully coming closer and closer to playing. … Just [need to be] more comfortable with battling, because skating and everything, I feel like 100 percent.”

Hertl didn’t completely shoot down a suggestion that he could play before the All-Star break, which begins on Friday, but indicated it’s more likely to be sometime after that. The Sharks resume their schedule on Jan. 31 against Chicago after next weekend’s breather.

“We want [to take] a little bit of time, more battles, a little bit more workouts,” Hertl said. “But, I think I’m pretty close. We’ll see how it goes the next couple days.”

The timeline has been fluid with Hertl, who was originally expected to miss “weeks” rather than months, general manager Doug Wilson said shortly after the injury on Nov. 17. On Jan. 5, a source with knowledge of Hertl’s status told CSN he was unlikely to play before mid-February, but it now appears he’ll be back sooner than that.

“Looks great,” coach Pete DeBoer said of Hertl. “I don't know if that's a testament to our group or his progress, but he looked fantastic out there. He's getting very close. We're starting to talk about him on a daily basis, which is a good sign."

Hertl suffered his knee injury during a game with St. Louis on Nov. 17 after what looked like a fairly innocent collision with the Blues’ Jori Lehtera, and underwent what Wilson termed a “minor procedure” on Nov. 22 designed to prevent further knee injuries from occurring. It was at least the third known procedure that Hertl has undergone on his right knee.

In 17 games, Hertl has nine points (4g, 5a).

NHL Gameday: Sharks host plummeting Avalanche, Nieto

NHL Gameday: Sharks host plummeting Avalanche, Nieto

Programming note – Sharks-Avalanche coverage starts today at 7:00 on CSN California with Sharks Pregame Live

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 28-16-2, 58 points, 2nd Pacific Division
Avalanche: 13-29-1, 27 points, 7th Central Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***Not only are the Avalanche buried in last place in the Central Division, but they are just 2-14-0 in their last 16 games, including losses in their last four. Colorado has not won a game in regulation since Dec. 11 in Toronto, getting just a pair of overtime wins since then.

The Sharks visit Pepsi Center on Monday for the second of a back-to-back. It should be four points in the bank, but, predictably that's not the approach they’re taking.

“You don’t look at where they’re at in the standings,” Logan Couture said. “They’ve got some very good players, some top end skill up front. So, we know it’s going to be a tough game. They can create a lot off the rush, those guys. It’s going to be a challenge.”

The Sharks have won three straight, and are 5-2-0 in their last seven.

Pete DeBoer said: “For me, this more of a mindset game. We've been playing some very solid hockey the last few games against some tough opponents, and we have to bring that mindset in here again tonight."

***In goal, Martin Jones will return after it was Aaron Dell in net for Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay.

The Sharks netminder has struggled after taking a game off, going 1-5-0 with a 2.85 goals-against average and .890 save percentage in six games. Last season, he was just 5-10-1 with a 2.54 GAA and .899 SP the game after not starting.

Colorado will go with Spencer Martin, who will be making his NHL debut. A third round pick in 2013, Martin is 15-9-2 with a 2.62 GAA and .915 SP in 27 games for San Antonio (AHL).

“Obviously, we don't want to make it easy on him,” DeBoer said. “We want to fire pucks and get traffic and get lots of action around the net, but we're not spending a whole lot of time on that.”

***The Sharks will ice their same lineup from Thursday, other than the goaltender change. Timo Meier remains out with an upper body injury.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Ryan Carpenter. The 26-year-old center opened the scoring in the Sharks’ win over Tampa Bay on Thursday, and is making his case to stay on roster at least while Tomas Hertl remains out. Carpenter, who has two goals, eight shots, and a plus-three rating in five games this season, will play in his third straight game tonight after getting recalled early in the week. 

Avalanche: Matt Nieto. After he was pushed out of the Sharks’ lineup, Matt Nieto was waived by San Jose and promptly claimed by Colorado on Jan. 5. Wearing his familiar uniform number 83, Nieto scored his first goal with the Avalanche on Tuesday against Chicago, and has two points and eight shots on goal in five games with his new team.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Patrick Marleau – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Joonas Donskoi – Logan Couture – Mikkel Boedker
Kevin Labanc – Chris Tierney – Joel Ward
Melker Karlsson – Ryan Carpenter – Tommy Wingels

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones (starter)
Aaron Dell

Avalanche
Mikko Rantanen – Nathan Mackinnon – Rene Bourque
Gabriel Landeskog – Matt Duchene – Matt Nieto
Blake Comeau – Carl Soderberg – Jarome Iginla
Joe Colborne – John Mitchell – Mikhail Grigorekno

Fedor Tyutin – Tyson Barrie
Cody Goloubef – Nikita Zadorov
Francois Beauchemin – Eric Gelinas

Spencer Martin (starter)
Calvin Pickard

INJURIES

Sharks: Timo Meier (upper body), Micheal Haley (lower body), Dylan DeMelo (broken wrist) and Tomas Hertl (right knee sprain) are out.

Avalanche: Semyon Varlamov (groin) and Erik Johnson (broken fibula) are out.

QUOTEABLE

“It’s a bittersweet moment. Selfishly, you’re upset that you’re not going to be on the same team as him anymore and you’re not going to see him every day, but the other part of you is happy for him because he’s going to get an opportunity somewhere.”– Logan Couture, on Matt Nieto getting claimed by Avalanche earlier this month.