Sharks

Marleau back to the middle as Sharks deal with no Couture, Haley

Marleau back to the middle as Sharks deal with no Couture, Haley

SAN JOSE – All four of the Sharks’ lines have been in a blender for much of the season. 

Now, with Logan Couture out for at least one game and probably longer, and Micheal Haley getting tagged with a one-game suspension, the coaching staff has no choice but to mix and match the remaining forwards in time for Tuesday’s home game with the Rangers.

They’ll hope it’s the right recipe to snap out of what has been a miserable six-game losing streak in regulation, including the last two in which the Sharks have been outscored 13-3 by Dallas and Nashville.

The most notable player to be shifted is Patrick Marleau, who will apparently be centering the second line against New York. It will be just the fifth game he starts at center this season, and first since Feb. 11 in Philadelphia, when he was filling in for an ill Couture.

Marleau, of course, has played plenty of center over the years, including the second half of last season and first handful of playoff games when he was in the middle of the third line.

“I don’t think there’s been a year where I haven’t played center, so it’s just one of those things, move in and out,” Marleau said. “We’re interchangeable throughout the whole lineup, anyway.”

Marleau has been one of the few effective Sharks players lately, with three of the team’s last five goals. He has 26 goals on the season, third on the team, and is fifth on the Sharks in points with 44.

“Patty is playing great. I don’t think we could ask for more from him,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “Arguably a lot of nights this year he’s been our best forward. He’s playing hard, he’s playing strong. He’s been a real valuable piece for us. We wouldn’t be in the spot we’re in this year without him and the way he’s played this year.”

Marleau is set to skate with Melker Karlsson and Mikkel Boedker, as Karlsson is good to go after missing the last eight games with a lower body injury. The 26-year-old Swede is having a nice season with 19 points (9g, 10a) in 60 games.

The third line featured Tomas Hertl between Joel Ward and Marcus Sorensen, while Chris Tierney will center the fourth line with Timo Meier and Joonas Donskoi.

Karlsson, who confirmed he was ready to return, said: “Cooch is out, and we’ll see how long he’s going to be out, but I’ll do my best. I’m going to work hard, and hopefully can get going here.”

Marleau described Karlsson as “tenacious on the forecheck, causes a lot of turnovers. He’s hungry on that puck. He’s going to get his opportunities, and I’m sure he’ll put a few in the back of the net.”

* * *

Of course, the Sharks don’t care who scores the goals, just as long as it’s someone. It’s been a season-long issue for them to get their depth scorers to do more, and if they want any chance at reclaiming first place in the Pacific Division while Couture is out, that will be a necessity.

Among the players that will bring their scoring woes into Tuesday’s game will be Donskoi (no points 13 games), Hertl (no points in 12 games), Boedker (no points in 10 games), Ward (no points in six games), Sorensen (one assist in 10 games) and Tierney (one goal in 12 games).

Could Couture’s absence be a wake up call for those guys?

“I would hope it doesn’t take an injury to get that. That’s something we’re looking for, it’s something we’ve challenged the group to get more out of them,” DeBoer said. 

“They’re the first guys to recognize they’ve got to give us a little bit more. That’s been an ongoing process. The good news is they’ve all done it before. I feel that they all have the ability to raise their level another notch here before the playoffs. I think they have enough character that we’ll see that.”

Time is growing short, as the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin in a little more than two weeks.

Marleau said: “When you go into playoffs, [secondary scoring] is usually what makes a difference. We need everybody contributing and guys stepping up at different times. We know that in this room, and guys are looking forward to doing that.”

Tomas Hertl thriving at center and Sharks win over Penguins showed why

Tomas Hertl thriving at center and Sharks win over Penguins showed why

SAN JOSE – Sure, the Sharks’ 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night was chock full of highlights.

There was Martin Jones’ glove save of Sidney Crosby at 5:40 in the first period. Joe Thornton scored a goal in his 1,000th game in teal. Evander Kane had the puck on his stick nearly every single time he was on the ice.

Yet the most memorable moment occurred toward the end of the first frame, just before Tomas Hertl scored his first goal on the evening. That’s not to say tallying his second career hat trick in the final minutes of regulation and having caps rain down from the stands didn't make an impression.

But, Hertl was so committed to scoring that first goal he literally butt-checked Pittsburgh star Evgeni Malkin off the play in order to keep his scoring chance alive.

“Every guy’s laughing because I used my big ass again,” Hertl laughed when the media asked about the play after the win.

The Czech forward has been nails since coach Peter DeBoer moved him to center, a position he's played on-and-off in his time in teal. With Evander Kane and Joonas Donskoi on his wings, the Hertl-led third line – if you can even call them that anymore – keeps generating offense for San night after night.

With his defensive play and three goals on the night, Tuesday perfectly showed how Hertl has become comfortable and confident playing the pivot.

“I try to play to every game a little bit better in the d-zone,” Hertl said. “I still have to work out some details, but I think every game is better and better. I will just try to keep working and feel like a centerman for my wings.”

[RELATED: Peter DeBoer 'still a bit off' after suffering concussion]

Hertl’s transformation into a mainstay in the middle is another positive development in what has, thus far, been a productive campaign.

With the exception of some minor injuries earlier in the season, the 25-year-old forward has stayed relatively healthy and has emerged as an undeniable force for San Jose’s offense. Tuesday’s hat trick gives him 11 goals in 20 games – in addition to 10 assists he’s also tallied during that time. His third goal of the evening was also the 100th of his NHL career.

Not surprisingly, Hertl’s more excited that his line as a whole is playing well. Kane has points in eight of his last nine games, and Donskoi has registered four in his last five. Whenever these guys are on the ice together, good things seem to happen.

“I’m happy for our line because we’ve built some chemistry,” he said. “We’re getting chances every night. It’s really fun where we’re at right now on the ice.”

And how could he not have fun? The Sharks’ winning streak stands at seven games, and they’re defeating some of the toughest teams in the league – yes, even the Penguins.

“I’m so happy just for everybody on the ice because we’re just winning and that’s the most important,” Hertl said, flashing his signature smile. “Winning is a lot of fun. It’s not just about who scores, it’s about how we win the game. So I’m really happy for that.”

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in dominant 5-2 win over Penguins

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in dominant 5-2 win over Penguins

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE – The Sharks knew they had a tough task at hand with the streaking Pittsburgh Penguins coming to town on Tuesday.

“We’ve played a lot of good teams lately, and these guys coming into town, they’re playing as good as anyone right now,” captain Joe Pavelski said the morning before the game.

But that didn’t stop San Jose from getting the jump on the visitors and never letting up, skating away with a 5-2 and their seventh straight victory.

Here are three takeaways from Tuesday’s contest:

The hot start that never cooled off

If the Sharks were going to compete with the red-hot Pens, they were going to have to have a stronger start than they did on Saturday against the struggling Ottawa Senators. They did just that, taking over the pace of the game even though Pittsburgh got on the scoreboard first. 

San Jose got better as the game went on, completely taking over the pace of the game in the second period. The Sharks outshot the Pens 15-8 and absolutely smothered Pittsburgh’s lone power-play attempt in the middle frame. One the few chances Pittsburgh was able to generate, goaltender Martin Jones came up big.

Winning combinations

The Sharks and their fans were undoubtedly ecstatic winger Joonas Donskoi was able to play on Tuesday, given how well he, Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl have been playing as of late. Right from their first shift of the game, that line had jump. They looked like they had the puck in Pittsburgh territory every time they were on the ice – which probably accounts for why Hertl tallied his second career hat trick on the evening.

But, they weren’t the only line generating offense. Joe Thornton’s line – more on him in just a bit – with Joe Pavelski and Marcus Sorensen had a strong showing, with all three getting on the scoresheet. Plus, defensive pair extraordinaire Erik Karlsson and Brenden Dillon helped set up a couple plays that ended up in the back of Pittsburgh’s net.

Big night for No. 19

This season has featured many milestones for Thornton. He made Tuesday night’s game against Pittsburgh, his 1,000th contest with the Sharks, extra memorable. In addition to becoming just the fourth NHLer to appear with 1,000-plus games with the same team after being traded, he joined former teammate Patrick Marleau in tallying a goal on his 1,000th game as a Shark. 

Considering Thornton was sidelined at the start of the season after experiencing swelling in his surgically-repaired knee, Tuesday’s game was a nice indicator of how hard he has worked to keep making an impact night in and night out.