SAN JOSE -– From the Sharks’ perspective, there wasn’t much to be pleased about after they dropped a 4-0 game to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night, but the play of Matt Nieto was a bright spot for coach Pete DeBoer.
Nieto replaced Nikolay Goldobin on the Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski line in the second period, as DeBoer made some changes on the fly in a game that wasn’t going San Jose’s way.
“Just looking for some type of spark. I thought Nieto was our best forward tonight, and he deserved to be moved up there,” DeBoer said after the game.
It didn’t result in any goals, of course, as the Sharks got shut out by one of the best teams in the league. Thornton and Pavelski struggled, too, both finishing with a team-worst minus-10 rating in unblocked shot attempts as the four-line Rangers came at the Sharks in waves.
Still, DeBoer kept Nieto on Thornton’s left wing at practice on Wednesday, and that’s likely how the Sharks will start Thursday’s game against the Kings as they open up a three-game homestand. Nieto has 1 goal and 2 assists in six games.
“We’ve played together before, so I kind of know what my role is with those two,” Nieto said. “If I play it right I think we can be a really effective line.”
Pavelski said: “Brings a lot of speed, and I think that’s what you saw that last little bit with him when he played with us. We started getting a little bit of that offensive time where we could roll around down low and create that momentum.”
“We’ve got to get to the net and find a way to get some production.”
For Thornton and Pavelski, it will be the third left wing they’ll start with in just the seventh game this season. Joonas Donskoi was there for the season opener but has been out for three straight games with a lower body injury, while Goldobin started both weekend games in that slot.
Goldobin was reassigned to the Barracuda on Thursday after struggling defensively. He needs more games in the minor leagues before he’ll be considered an everyday NHL player.
Meanwhile, the Sharks’ depth is getting tested, as key pieces like Logan Couture and Paul Martin are sidelined.
“We’re doing an alright job,” Nieto said. “Obviously, those are two guys you can’t really replace. Really important guys. We’ve got to have guys that step up and rise to the occasion. If we do that I think we’ll be fine.
“I think we got away from playing aggressive and all the things that brought success, so if we do those things we’ll be in good shape.”
Pavelski expects the Sharks to have a renewed focus for their biggest rival on Thursday.
“The first four games [we] did a lot of good things and things that we’d like to think are starting to become natural and part of our foundation,” he said. “The commitment level has to be there on a nightly basis.”