SAN JOSE – When Brent Burns was out of the lineup with an unspecified upper body injury, Tommy Wingels proved to be the best replacement for the big winger that is, well, irreplaceable.
Turns out Wingels is pretty good when he skates with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau, too.
The 25-year-old forward had two goals, while Marleau and Couture added three points apiece in a 5-1 rout of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at SAP Center.
Wingels opened the scoring with a first period goal, and gave the Sharks a 3-0 lead in the second, as San Jose began its season-long five-game homestand on a high note. Both of Wingels’ goals came from between the circles on feeds from Couture and Marleau, respectively.
When asked about his first career two-goal game, Wingels replied: “That was my first one?” fooling no one, and trying to hide a giant smirk on his face.
He continued: “It’s fun scoring goals in this league. It’s Patty and Logan on both those plays, making really nice passes, and I happen to be the beneficiary on the play.”
Wingels already has a career high in points, with seven goals and nine assists for 16 points in 22 games. On a night when Burns, Thornton and Tomas Hertl started to search for the chemistry they had the first three weeks of the season, it was the Couture-Marleau-Wingels line that was dominant.
Thornton praised all of them after the game.
“Tommy, you can just tell, he’s playing with so much confidence right now,” Thornton said. “That line looked dangerous all night long. Good for Tommy to keep it going. Patty looked great, Logan looked great, and they did a good job tonight for us.”
McLellan liked that line, as well as the third line of Joe Pavelski, Marty Havlat and Tyler Kennedy, despite Kennedy being the only one to get on the scoreboard with an assist on Brad Stuart’s first period marker.
“That [Couture] line played well against their top players for most of the night. I thought Marty, Pav and TK had a really good night. Those three looked like they belonged together, and played well,” McLellan said. “Good balance through those two lines, and Burnzie’s line with Jumbo and Tomas, it will take some time for them to get their legs going again and feel each other out.”
As for his return, Burns said: “It felt good. It’s going to be a little bit of time to get back into things, but I felt like I stayed in pretty good shape when I was out.”
The key moment arguably came in the first period. The Sharks held a 1-0 lead, but were left shorthanded after Wingels’ neutral zone tripping minor. Out came the foursome of Stuart, Marleau, Pavelski and Scott Hannan, who ended up having to kill off the entire two minutes as Tampa Bay controlled the puck in its offensive zone for the duration.
The Lightning had three shots on goal, too, but Antti Niemi stopped them all in finishing with 36 overall.
What did Stuart see during that PK?
“Stars,” he said. “You’re out there for a long time, at some point you’re just battling to keep the puck out of your net. You kind of tighten it up and you’re trying to conserve what little energy you might have left. I think the guys that were out there did a good job at doing that.”
McLellan said: “Once we got tired we tightened things up and played from the middle out and waited for an opportunity to clear and get fresh people out. But, that’s very taxing on a group of players. They did a very good job. The goaltender made some real good saves.”
A pair of goals from Burns at 4:42 of the third, on a double-deflection off of his leg, and Marleau 19 seconds later, put the game out of reach as the Sharks increased their lead to 5-0.
“Any time you’re on the receiving end of back-to-back goals like that, it can certainly take a lot of wind out of your sails,” McLellan said.
Burns’ return to the lineup from missing exactly a month provided some wind for the Sharks’ sails, even if it was indirect in the form of Wingels' new assignment.
“Brent is a very, very big piece to this lineup and our team,” Wingels said. “You can see his presence out there helps us as a lineup, and us as a forward group.”