SAN JOSE – Sharks rookie Matt Nieto’s timing could have been better.
The Long Beach native’s performance on Tuesday was overshadowed by fellow rookie Tomas Hertl’s four-goal output, and after several family members attended the Sharks’ home opener last week, they have since left town.
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Even so, that didn’t seem to diminish the 20-year-old’s excitement at recording his first points in the NHL in Tuesday’s 9-2 dismantling of the New York Rangers. Nieto assisted on Dan Boyle’s first period goal for his first-ever point, and scored a second period goal to give the Sharks a 3-1 lead. His first power play point came on the Sharks’ ninth goal, when he assisted on Justin Braun’s late marker.
“I’m really happy for Tomas, that’s a great accomplishment, but to get my first goal, I couldn’t be happier,” Nieto said after the game. “I thought the team played well again tonight.”
Nieto has played on the wing of the Sharks’ third line through the first three games, with center Joe Pavelski and right wing Tommy Wingels. Pavelski and Wingels earned assists on Nieto’s goal, which turned out to be the game-winner.
Pavelski started the play with a great cross-ice pass through two Rangers to Wingels, and Wingels managed to push the puck to the slot where Nieto slammed it home at 8:16 of the second period.
“[New York] turned the puck over in the neutral zone, and we were able to counter that. We had a good line rush,” Nieto said. “Tommy hit the puck into the slot, I crashed the net hard, and luckily no one was around me and I hit it in the back of the net.”
Todd McLellan said: “Obviously everyone is going to focus on Tomas, and they should, but Matty had a great game. He feels comfortable playing on that line, and he complements Pav and Tommy Wingels very well with his speed and his tenacity. He’s on top of pucks a lot and obviously has a bit of a nose for the net, too.”
Nieto, who took the place that would have been occupied by Raffi Torres before an ACL injury, was asked what he thinks is behind the Sharks’ impressive 3-0-0 start, in which they’ve outscored the opposition 17-4. All three wins have come at SAP Center.
“I think some of it has to do with the fans that we get,” Nieto said. “The fans have been great so far, and we’ve been able to play really well in our home building. We’re on the road for our first game in Vancouver, so hopefully we can carry that momentum.”