In a perfect world, Sharks rookie Chris Tierney would be in the middle of his first playoff series with San Jose, competing in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Due to San Jose’s struggles in the second half of the season, that wasn’t to be. Instead, Tierney is skating with AHL Worcester, as the Sharks’ top affiliate gets set for its first postseason game in five years on Friday against Hershey.
Tierney will be relied upon heavily, according to coach Roy Sommer, after the 20-year-old posted 29 points (8g, 21a) in 29 games throughout the season as he was shuffled back and forth.
“He drives the engine. He’s kind of our offensive guy down here,” Sommer told CSNCalifornia.com. “We don’t really have a guy that’s a point-per-game, but he’s a point-per-game down at this level.”
Tierney is centering Worcester’s top line, with Barclay Goodrow and Daniil Tarasov on the wings, after closing out his first NHL season with 14 points in the final 18 games.
“He just sees the ice so well,” Sommer said. “You saw what he did up at the NHL level. Magnify that down here and put him with a guy that can shoot the puck and a guy that can grind, and you’ve got the makings of a pretty good line.”
There are other names on Worcester’s roster that are familiar to San Jose Sharks fans other than Tierney; Goodrow was reassigned in early April, while Tarasov, Matt Tennyson, Taylor Fedun and Eriah Hayes also spent time with the parent club.
So, too, is 2014 first round pick Nikolay Goldobin, who joined Worcester on April after his season in Finland concluded and contributed three goals and five points in nine games.
Sommer gave a brief review of the 19-year-old winger who impressed in his first NHL training camp last September.
“Started out really good, a couple points in his first game. Then he had a little bit of a lull. Then his last few games he’s really picked it up,” Sommer said. “In his last two games, you can see why they drafted him in the first round -- just good vision and skills.
“He seems to know where to go in the defensive zone. I thought that was going to be a weakness of his, but he plays at both ends of the rink.”
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Worcester finished the regular season with a 41-29-4-2 record, good for third place in the Atlantic Division. It had the 12th ranked power play, 13th ranked penalty kill, was tied for seventh in goals-per-game, and tied for ninth in goals-against in the 30-team league.
As Sommer alluded to, there weren’t any stand out offensive stars other than Tierney, who was only there for about one-third of the season. Bryan Lerg led Worcester with 41 points, which was tied for just 90th in the AHL.
Goaltending, a puck-moving defense and team discipline were some of the keys to making it to the playoffs for the first time since 2010, according to Sommer, the AHL’s all-time leader in games coached.
“We had solid goaltending,” Sommer said. “I think our strength came from our back end. I think we moved pucks and weren’t in our end long. I think that was the biggest thing. We were fast. We got on the forecheck, pressured pucks, and stayed out of the penalty box. When you add all that stuff up, it turns into a good playoff team.”
The starting goaltender for Game 1 is unknown. Troy Grosenick, who had a shutout in his NHL debut for the Sharks on Nov. 16 in Carolina could get the call, or it could be Aaron Dell.
Dell’s numbers were better, as he posted a 2.06 goals-against average and .927 save percentage as compared to Grosenick’s 2.63 GAA and .906 SP. Both are 25 years old.
“We’ll say who the starter is on Thursday. We’ll let them battle it out here the next couple of days,” Sommer said. “Either one of them can go in.”
Sommer indicated it’s been a pleasurable season from his standpoint. Considering the lingering problems with the NHL team’s culture and its fragmented dressing room, the opposite is true with the AHL club.
“It’s been kind of a tight team from the get-go,” Sommer said. “It’s been a lot of fun to coach. They like each other, they play hard for one another, they hang around with each other after they get off the ice. Their practices they go hard.
“It’s everything you ask for as a coach. They all pull the rope the same way.”