SAN JOSE -- The Sharks are likely making some changes headed into Thursday’s home game with the Los Angeles Kings.
Although nothing was confirmed by coach Todd McLellan, it appears Tommy Wingels will be shifted up to the second line to play alongside Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. The third line will be James Sheppard centering Matt Nieto and Tyler Kennedy, while Marty Havlat has been bumped to the fourth line with center Andrew Desjardins and right wing Mike Brown.
"I'd feel comfortable skating with any one of our forwards,” Wingels said. “My spot in the lineup throughout the year has shown I'm a guy that gets moved around. So whoever it happens to be tonight, I'm happy with that."
Wingels has played on the Couture line before, but the last time he started a game there was nearly a month ago, on March 4 vs. Carolina. He tallied three goals and two assists in his first three games on a third line with James Sheppard and either Raffi Torres or Marty Havlat, but then went scoreless in 10 games primarily with Sheppard and Havlat before finally notching his 16th goal against Edmonton on Tuesday.
“He has to be a catalyst for our team,” McLellan said of Wingels. “He’s one of our more physical guys that plays in straight lines. We don’t have to necessarily evaluate Tommy’s game on offense and goal production. There’s a lot of other areas that he can be very effective in. The forecheck is one of them.
“I think Tommy’s been a good player for us over the last 10 games. I think there’s room for improvement, though, just like the rest of the group.”
Although San Jose beat Edmonton on Tuesday, the postgame vibe in the dressing room was decidedly somber, as the Sharks didn’t play very well for lengthy stretches against the worst team in the Western Conference.
Fortunately for the Sharks, they’ve played their best hockey against some of the top teams in the league, such as a 3-2 win over the Ducks on March 20, and a 5-3 defeat of Pittsburgh on March 6.
Facing their biggest rival provides the Sharks an opportunity to right the ship with just five games left in the regular season.
“It’s a game where we can get our game to where it needs to be. We haven’t played very well lately,” Couture said. “We know what kind of challenge they are. They are one of the best teams in the league, so we’re going to have to play well if we want to beat them. That’s our goal.”
A meeting with the Kings could be a first round playoff preview, as Anaheim remains three points ahead of the Sharks with a game in hand and the tiebreaker. But, Couture said the team doesn’t view Thursday’s game that way.
“Not yet, no. We’re still trying to get that one seed,” he said. “We’ve got a mathematical chance, so that’s what we’re going to fight for. After our next five games are done, we’ll sit down and see who we’re going to play, and go from there.”
Wingels said: “It's a team that we could face in the playoffs. We're well aware of that. And it's a team that we've obviously had history with. So, we're going to get ready to play tonight."
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Wingels offered Dustin Brown a chance to fight – twice – on Jan. 27. It was the first game between the clubs since Brown’s controversial hit on Tomas Hertl.
Are there still any residual feelings of ill will towards the Kings’ captain?
"I don't know what you're referring to," Wingels said.
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Raffi Torres remains out, and is looks like Matt Irwin will be scratched in favor of Scott Hannan based on the morning skate.
Antti Niemi will start in goal for the Sharks, and could oppose Kings backup Martin Jones. The rookie netminder beat the Sharks on Dec. 19, making 31 saves in a 4-1 win at Staples Center. Jonathan Quick shut out the Coyotes on Wednesday night with 17 saves in a 4-0 win.