SAN JOSE – Sure, it was only a preseason game, but there was much to like about the Sharks’ dominant 5-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night at SAP Center.
[RECAP: Sharks feast on Canucks in 5-0 win]
Rookie Tomas Hertl scored twice, the top power play unit added two and was in midseason form, goalie Antti Niemi stopped everything he saw and was rarely challenged, the Sharks were never shorthanded, and, well, you get the point.
Hertl’s night was the most noteworthy, as the 19-year-old now leads the team with three preseason markers in three games. No one in the organization will admit it, but his spot on the opening night roster is secure, especially after Raffi Torres’ unfortunate injury.
He’s looking more and more comfortable on a line with Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, and it might not be too early to consider him a preseason contender for the Calder Trophy.
“He’s good around the net, scored last game right around the net and tonight around the net,” Joe Thornton said, referring to Hertl’s getting a piece of a shot by Scott Hannan in the first period, while standing just outside the crease.
Todd McLellan said Tuesday morning that he wanted to see how Hertl performed against opposing lineups that featured mostly NHL players, rather than AHL-laden squads typically seen in early matches. The Canucks iced a group that featured several of their veterans, including Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis, Chris Tanev, Yannick Weber and Andrew Alberts on defense. While that group leaves much to be desired (regulars Kevin Bieksa and Jason Garrison did not play), they all have NHL experience.
“Tonight, he did a very good job again,” McLellan said of Hertl.
The coach seemed reluctant to single out Hertl from other players fighting for roster spots, including fourth liners Matt Pelech, Bracken Kearns and John McCarthy, and youngsters Matt Nieto and Matt Tennyson, all of whom played against Vancouver.
Nieto in particular displayed some flashes of offensive creativity on the wing with Joe Pavelski. The 20-year-old hit the post about eight minutes into the first period when he showed off his quick feet and wrists, and in the second, he beat Edler one-on-one and forced goalie Eddie Lack to make a tough save on a backhander from the slot.
“It’s great to have competition. It can’t be a comfortable camp for everyone because we can’t keep all these guys, but it will still get tougher as it goes on, and guys are pushing,” McLellan said.
Nieto, incidentally, was skating in the place vacated by Torres, who was on Pavelski’s wing with Tommy Wingels before he went down with a right ACL injury.
“Trying to fill in for Raffi’s absence, and trying to experiment there a little bit and see who best fits in that role,” McLellan said.
Vancouver actually came out with the early territorial advantage, and Tanev hit the post about a minute after the opening faceoff. That was as close to the Canucks came to putting it past Niemi.
The Sharks’ goaltender stopped all 24 shots directed his way, and didn’t seem to mind that he was rarely tested. It was his second full preseason game.
“I got enough shots early in the game, so I felt pretty good all around,” Niemi said.
He was impressed by the Sharks’ ability to keep the puck out of dangerous areas.
“After the start, we were able to handle their hard forecheck. We got the puck quickly turned over to their zone,” he said.
The Sharks have two preseason games remaining in Phoenix on Friday and Anaheim on Saturday.
McLellan said: “When you win 5-0 and don’t give up many chances, things feel pretty good. That might be a completely different story after the weekend, and we’ll have to take that test and reevaluate on Sunday.”