DALLAS -– All season long, when it comes to the Sharks’ bottom two lines, it almost seems like coach Todd McLellan is placing a bunch of names into a hat before the morning skate and choosing them at random to fill out his lineup.
That’s not a knock on the coach, who has been saddled with a number of forwards that are either rookies still getting their feet wet in the NHL, or aren’t having productive seasons.
Andrew Desjardins and Tomas Hertl are among the latter. But against Dallas on Thursday, that pair along with first-year center Chris Tierney led the Sharks’ offense in an important 5-2 win over the injury-plagued yet still pesky Stars. Desjardins scored twice, Hertl assisted on both, and all three finished with a +2 rating.
“That line, for the minutes they got, were responsible defensively, provided us some momentum and scored two big goals. They all deserve a lot of credit,” McLellan said.
Desjardins’ first goal came on a tip of a Hertl shot at 3:38 of the second period to make it 2-0. Less than three minutes later, he buzzed a wrist shot past Kari Lehtonen with Hertl setting the screen for what turned out to be the game-winner, giving San Jose an insurmountable 3-0 lead.
“I saw the lane, I think I just kind of got lucky to be honest with you,” Desjardins said of his first goal. “I kind of lost it for a second and it hit my stick and went in. It was a great shot by Hertl. It might have been going in either way. I don't think [Lehtonen] saw it.
“And then the second one, good job by Hertl. It doesn't go in if he's not in the crease, right?”
Defensively it was far from a perfect effort for San Jose, which was outshot 39-28 for the game. It was much better than what has been transpiring lately, though, as the Sharks had surrendered at least four goals in eight of their last 12 before Thursday.
The penalty kill was clutch. Although Jamie Benn’s power play goal in the second period brought the Stars back to within two scores, the Sharks killed off a pair of minor penalties in the third period while protecting that 3-1 edge.
“We didn’t kill the first one off, but we killed the next [two], which were huge,” said Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who opened the scoring with a first period goal.
Regarding the Sharks’ overall defensive effort, McLellan said: “Better, more responsible, less risk. Still spent time in our zone, but that’s going to happen. I thought when we got up 3-0, we took our foot off the gas a little bit and then they got some momentum on their power play. They had [two] in a row we had to kill, but it was improved, and the goaltender played a tremendous game as well.”
McLellan is referring of course to Antti Niemi, who played probably his best game since shutting out Chicago on Jan. 31. The Sharks haven’t gotten the big save from either of their goaltenders often enough this season, especially since the turn of the New Year, but Niemi stopped 14 of 15 shots in the third period while allowing only a point-blank conversion by Erik Cole late in regulation.
It’s the kind of performance they’ll need from Niemi from here on out, provided the talked-about goalie is still with San Jose after the trade deadline.
“I felt pretty good until the end,” Niemi said.
The Sharks are now able to head into their biggest game of the season on Saturday against Los Angeles at Levi’s Stadium with a slight weight lifted off of their shoulders. San Jose had lost its previous two games, and was just 1-4-1 in its last six before beating the Stars.
They’ve won two of three against the Kings this season, and a third victory against their biggest rival followed by four days off could be the energy boost they need for the stretch run.
“Tonight will be a nice plane ride home, tomorrow will be relaxed, and it’s nice to go into that game not having lost three in a row,” Vlasic said.