SAN JOSE -– Just four months ago in training camp, Sharks brass boasted that the club was much deeper at forward than last season, when there was enough dead weight on the roster to sink the Lusitania.
Nearing the halfway point of the 2015-16 regular season, it’s not looking a whole lot better. It’s probably the biggest reason the Sharks are 18-18-2, in sixth place in the Pacific Division and 27th in the 30-team NHL.
Joel Ward has one goal in his last 10 games. Tomas Hertl has two goals in his last 34 games. Dainius Zubrus has one goal in 17 games. Tommy Wingels has one goal in his last 15 games. Melker Karlsson has one goal in his last 18 games. Matt Nieto has one goal in his last 19 games. Joonas Donskoi has one goal in his last 20 games. Mike Brown has one goal in 33 games. Chris Tierney has one goal in a manned net in 36 games.
Like Todd McLellan before him, Pete DeBoer has tried various line combinations to try and spark the offense. In practice on Friday he rearranged all four of his lines fresh off of a 2-1 home loss to Detroit on Thursday night.
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Hertl was back up on the Thornton line with Joe Pavelski, while Patrick Marleau was shifted to the middle between Nieto and Ward. The third line featured Logan Couture centering Donskoi and Karlsson; while Tierney, Brown and Wingels made up the fourth line. Zubrus is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.
“We’re looking for production,” DeBoer said. “If we’re going to use guys for 12, 13, 14 minutes a night, you can’t just take up space or be a good guy or good teammate. That’s great, but we need some of the depth here to make a difference. It’s not your turn every night, but we need some type of production there.”
Hertl stands out as perhaps the most disappointing player this season. The former first round pick came into the year with a new diet, slimmer body and probably a healthier knee, and while the advanced stats say he’s doing some good things in terms of possession, he hasn’t been able to Corsi his way out of a season-long scoring slump.
His dejection over his performance was evident on Friday, and with every passing game that he doesn’t contribute, it looks more and more like team management mishandled the 22-year-old, his Dustin Brown-induced knee injury derailed his career, or he simply doesn’t have a very high ceiling. Or, perhaps it’s some sort of amalgamation of all three.
Regardless, he’ll get another shot on Saturday against Toronto with Thornton, where he found so much success in his rookie year when he tallied 15 goals in his first 37 NHL games in 2013 before colliding with the Los Angeles Kings captain in December.
“Hopefully I will help Jumbo and Pav. I need to start playing way better still,” Hertl said. “I still have some details and making some wrong plays, and hopefully [I’ll] start scoring some goals. … We need everybody ready, because we don’t have any time. We need to just go play the best hockey now we can.”
Thornton, too, is hopeful that Hertl can take that next step in his career that the Sharks have been expecting.
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“I thought Tomas was playing real good,” Thornton said. “I think as a young player it’s the compete level that is the most important thing. Goals and assists will come. As long as you compete hard and play aggressive – I think he’s doing that. Hopefully putting him with us, he gets back to competing hard, being aggressive, being tough to play against.”
Tierney is expected to return to the lineup after two games with the Barracuda this week, in which he registered one goal and two assists and a plus-three rating.
After spending about one-and-a-half months in Worcester last season, Tierney returned as a different player in early February and was one of the Sharks' best players down the stretch. He’s hopeful that another stint in the AHL can get him going again after he’s posted just three goals (including two empty netters), eight points and a minus-12 rating in 36 games with San Jose.
“I think that when I go down there, I just play," Tierney said. "I get a lot of minutes, and just get the confidence and just get a feel for touching the puck and having it and making plays. I think that’s good for when I come up, because that’s what I want to do here now.”
DeBoer said Tierney "went down there, moved his feet, attacked. When he’s doing that, he can be an effective guy, but he’s another guy that has to translate that to this level. The road is littered with good American League players and guys that put up numbers at that level, but don’t translate. He’s got to prove that he’s one of those guys that can make that game translate.”
It will take more than just Hertl and Tierney, though, for the Sharks to suddenly have a lineup that features four dangerous lines.
“We’ve got five or six guys that I would term are doing some good things, but we need a little bit more than that,” DeBoer said.