TORONTO -- Andrew Desjardins set the tone early. Mike Brown gave the Sharks the lead.
San Jose’s fourth line, which also included James Sheppard, wasn’t just effective in the 4-2 win in Toronto on Tuesday night. It was the biggest factor in the Sharks pocketing their sixth win in a row, according to head coach Todd McLellan.
“I thought they were the difference in the game, to tell you the truth,” McLellan said. “Maybe their minutes don’t reflect it, but their energy and the passion which they played with rubbed off on others. When it wasn’t going good, we turned to them to get some energy going, and they did a really good job.”
[RECAP: Sharks 4, Maple Leafs 2]
It started with Desjardins, who was playing in his fourth game after sitting as a healthy scratch on Nov. 23. The center ran over Toronto’s Jerred Smithson nearly six minutes into the first period, and Frazer McLaren’s roughing penalty in retaliation for the hit put San Jose on a power play, which it failed to capitalize on.
Still, the Sharks carried the pace of play after the expired penalty, and took a 1-0 lead when Brown tipped a Jason Demers shot after Desjardins pushed the puck to the point with some good board work.
“The puck went up to Demers, he just shot it, and I just started going to the middle of the net. We’ve been working on tips lately, so I just put my stick down and it basically deflected off there,” said Brown, who took some time to regularly work his way into the Sharks’ lineup after a trade with Edmonton in mid-October.
Later in the period, Desjardins forced Toronto goalie James Reimer into a turnover behind the net, and the Sharks’ fourth liners hemmed in the Maple Leafs’ top line. Toronto took two more penalties later in the first, and Joe Thornton’s five-on-three goal gave the visitors a 2-0 lead at the break.
McLellan also gave the fourth line credit for the Sharks’ third goal -- the game-winner by Brad Stuart -- in the second period.
"We feel our fourth line has a lot of speed and they hunt pucks. They hem other teams in their zone. … We saw that happen tonight on our third goal, the winning goal. Hemmed them in and hemmed them in, the other team couldn’t get off, and that started with our fourth line doing a good job,” McLellan said.
That wasn’t the case for Toronto’s fourth line, as Stuart’s goal came with Smithson, McLaren and Colton Orr on the ice.
“They’re tired and it’s their fourth line. No disrespect, but maybe you could try things you wouldn’t ordinarily do,” said Stuart, who skated the puck deep into Toronto’s zone before depositing his third goal of the season, off of Smithson’s stick. “We had a lot of good looks on that particular shift, anyway. We were able to get a bounce, and capitalize on it.”
It started with the play of Desjardins, Brown and Sheppard, none of who skated for more than nine minutes.
Brown said: “For us as a fourth line, we’ve got to play that typical, physical, energy, simple game.”