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SAN JOSE – The American Express line has been reunited.
Wisconsin native Joe Pavelski, Illinois native Tommy Wingels, and Long Beach, California’s Matt Nieto took Thursday morning line rushes and are expected to play together for the first time in more than a month, as the Sharks try to end a four-game losing streak. It was a trio that spent the first 15 games of the season together, but was broken up after Brent Burns’ injury served as a monkey wrench in the top nine.
The Sharks were 10-1-5 in their first 15 games before Wingels was bumped up to replace Burns on the Joe Thornton-Tomas Hertl line on Nov. 7. Since then, the lines have been in a state of flux, and Nieto even spent a brief stretch in the minors.
“When we’re moving and supporting each other, that’s when we’ll be good, and that has to be there for us,” Pavelski said. “If you can find that offensive punch from a third line, kind of like we had early, it makes it tough on the other teams.”
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The Sharks’ top two lines will be as they were to start the season, too, with Burns, Thornton and Hertl remaining together, and Tyler Kennedy back with Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture.
Todd McLellan said: “With [the Pavelski line] getting back together, they have that opportunity to have that success again, but they need help. They need the other lines to be doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and it’s a collective effort. “
Nieto will be playing in his third game since he was recalled from Worcester on Dec. 8. Against the Wild on Sunday, he had a game-high six shots.
Early in the season, Nieto often mentioned how Pavelski has helped him to become acclimated to the NHL experience. On Thursday, Pavelski gave credit to Nieto for handling his brief demotion with a veteran’s maturity.
“It’s a young guy that gets a good start here, produced, and he handled that extremely well,” Pavelski said. “I think that speaks to his character, and you have to give him all the credit for doing that and getting the chance back up here again. We’ll just work, and talk, and play.”
The Sharks would prefer to keep Pavelski in the third line center role, which helped to transform their team starting late last season. In the last two games, though, McLellan decided to put him up in a top-six role with Marleau and Couture.
It was the Sharks’ best line offensively, and Pavelski scored on that line in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Islanders, but it was also on the ice for both of New York’s third period markers.
Maintaining a defensively responsible game, while trying to jumpstart an offense that has just seven goals during an 0-3-1 stretch, is McLellan’s objective.
“We’re a work in progress, moving people around to try and find the right combinations,” he said.