SAN JOSE – One of the reasons Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said he hired Pete DeBoer as head coach is that the 47-year-old isn’t afraid to make tough decisions.
That was on display Wednesday night, when DeBoer benched Tommy Wingels and Tomas Hertl for the third period of a 5-2 loss to the Blackhawks. It was the latest example of DeBoer shortening his bench, but the first time it involved a pair of players that are such essential pieces to the team’s success.
While DeBoer has a little more depth up front than Todd McLellan enjoyed last year, and can therefore more easily send in-game messages, benching guys for long stretches was something the former Sharks coach rarely did during the 2014-15 season of dysfunction. He had no shortage of chances to do so on a team that finished 12th out of 14th in the conference, either.
DeBoer, though, is sticking to the mantra set forth during his early days on the job.
“He said in training camp if he has confidence in you, he’ll play you, and you earn your ice time,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. “No matter what position you are, no matter who you are, you’ve got to earn your ice time.”
Wingels and Hertl will both be back in the lineup on Saturday against the Flames, so they’ll be worth monitoring. Wingels has just one goal in 22 games this season, while Hertl has just two, and none in the last 19.
For the Sharks to have consistent success and truly be a contender for the divisional crown, at least one or both of guys will have to get it going. DeBoer has liked what he’s seen from them in practice the past two days after the Chicago game.
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“There’s no issues with that. Those two guys are professional, they care, they’re honest kids, they’re honest players,” DeBoer said. “They're as disappointed as we are with where they are sitting right now. That’s never been an issue.
“At the same time, you’re a quarter of the way through the season, we’ve got to get it fixed and put in the right place.”
Now that 22 games have passed, DeBoer and the Sharks’ fresh coaching staff has enough of a grip on its roster to know what they should be getting from each player on a nightly basis, according to Joe Thornton.
“The honeymoon is over. They know what players can give and what they expect from players,” Thornton said. “I think that’s a good thing, that they expect big things out of players. If they don’t perform they’re going to have a couple shifts off, but that’s normal, I think.
“He’s not the first coach to do that and he won’t be the last. It’s a good reminder, just kick start some guys, and I’m sure they’ll respond the right way.”