SAN JOSE -– Early in the game Thursday against the Minnesota Wild, Sharks coach Todd McLellan was concerned with matching lines.
The Sharks, after all, were playing their most inexperienced lineup to date due to a number of players that were lost to injury, and the Wild are one of the more offensively powerful teams in the Western Conference.
As the game progressed, though, the coach liked what he was seeing from all four of his forward combinations. By the time his team was clinging to a one-goal lead late in the third period, not only were third liners Barclay Goodrow and Melker Karlsson still on the ice, they were taking shifts at key moments against top opposing players.
They responded well.
Goodrow had a pair of blocked shots with less than three minutes to go, including one that broke his stick and another that probably could have broken his hand.
Karlsson ended up on the ice for the final minute of regulation as McLellan was impressed with the rookie’s work along the boards, and wanted a right-handed shot on the ice with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Playing in his second NHL game, Karlsson helped prevent Minnesota from finding the tying goal in a 2-1 Sharks win, their fifth straight at home and sixth in the last seven overall.
“We started with some matches in mind, but as the game wore on we weren’t concerned with getting them at all costs, because we felt like they handled themselves well against [Mikko] Koivu, against [Mikael] Granlund,” McLellan said of his third line, which also included James Sheppard. “They created chances. They compete hard. They’ve got a youthful enthusiasm that rubs off on others.”
The 21-year-old Goodrow was playing in his fourth straight game, after sitting for the previous three. He has one goal and two assists in 15 games, but after missing the first 11 games with a hand injury, is settling in and giving the team good minutes.
“Now, he’s going,” McLellan said. “For as much as he needed to play when he was hurt, I think he needed a little bit of a break to get his legs underneath him. … We have enough confidence that we put him out with two and a half minutes left.”
After attending no fewer than four other NHL training camps before signing with the Sharks last March, Goodrow -– who doesn’t lack for confidence – was asked if he could envision himself still on the Sharks’ roster from the time he first skated here in training camp.
“I worked extremely hard in the summer on the areas of my game that I know I needed to improve on, specifically my skating,” he said. “I thought that come the end of the summer, I really had improved.
“I think I put myself in the best situation to be successful at camp. I felt I had a really good camp, so I was confident if I could do that I could hopefully turn some heads and make the team.”
Sheppard, meanwhile, is in the unfamiliar position of being the older veteran on a line with two wingers that had never skated in an NHL game before this season.
The 26-year-old, who has dramatically improved on his faceoff numbers after that was a concern last season, has seemingly locked down the third line center role for the time being.
How does he approach helping guys like Goodrow and Karlsson get acclimated to the league?
“Try not to say too much to them, but maybe just a few things here and there,” Sheppard said. “They’re going to learn on their own, especially with those young minds. They are going to pick it up really quick.”
Goodrow gave Sheppard more credit than that.
“He’s been great for me, personally,” Goodrow said. “He always makes sure I know what I’m doing on the faceoffs and certain plays. He’s been good for me, and he’s a good player to play with. He works extremely hard, and you know you’re going to get the most out of him.”
As it's been all season, the third line will likely remain a hodgepodge of players for the immediate future. That includes Matt Nieto, who should return shortly from an ankle injury.
Still, it bodes well that the Sharks have been able to get contributions from some unexpected places in the first two games of their homestand. The Sheppard-Goodrow-Karlsson combination will likely remain intact when the Sharks host Nashville on Saturday.
“We just want to keep playing, and hopefully get some points next game,” Sheppard said.