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SAN JOSE – Matt Nieto is an interesting case.
On the one hand, the Sharks sophomore forward is one of the team’s faster and more defensively responsible forwards. He spends plenty of time in the offensive zone, and his -1 rating is one of the better marks on the team. He’s a darling of the advanced stats community, too, as he’s been on the ice for many more Sharks shot attempts than attempts against.
On the other hand, his scoring has dried up. Nieto hasn’t found the back of the net since opening night in Los Angeles on Oct. 8, and his assist against the Coyotes on Saturday ended an eight-game scoring drought.
Nieto has just one goal and six assists in 22 games, despite frequently playing on a top line and taking regular shifts on the second power play unit.
Todd McLellan weighed the pros and cons of Nieto’s current game.
“We’d like to see him score. For us to have success as a team, he’s going to have to find the scoreboard, especially the minutes that he’s played with the top lines and on the power play. He’s created a number of chances, sometimes he’s snake bitten, but it’s gone on for a fairly long time.”
“In the same breath, he does a lot of good things away from the scoring part of it. He’s not on the ice for a lot of chances against. He’s capable penalty killing. He gives us some speed. There are some assets there that he continues to use in games.”
The 21-year-old was bumped to the fourth line during the Arizona game, a 4-3 shootout loss, while Tye McGinn took shifts with Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski. McLellan later said that he liked the size that McGinn brought to the line, and McGinn seemed to take the majority of line rushes in that spot on Tuesday in practice.
Where does that leave Nieto? He could be a healthy scratch on Wednesday against Calgary, or perhaps he'll go back to that fourth line with Andrew Desjardins and Tyler Kennedy.
Nieto assessed his game after Tuesday’s skate.
“I think I can play better, but I’m being responsible still. That’s important when you’re not scoring goals or producing offensively,” he said. “You’ve got to take care of the other parts of your game. I’m doing that, and I’m still trying my best to chip in.”
Is it difficult not to cheat in one end to try and produce offensively during a slump?
“It’s really important not to cheat for offense,” Nieto said. “The last thing you want to do is be a liability defensively and give up goals when they’re not going in for you. I’m still playing a two-way game, I’m still taking care of my own end. Hopefully the offense comes.”