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ARLINGTON, Va. – The Sharks’ third line was set.
Tommy Wingels and rookies Chris Tierney and Barclay Goodrow played the final three preseason games together, found some success as a unit, and were penciled in for the season opener in Los Angeles.
But then Goodrow hurt his hand in the final minute of regulation in Anaheim on Oct. 4. Rather than dramatically shuffle the deck, Todd McLellan plopped newcomer Tye McGinn onto the left wing, forming what has become the Sharks’ most productive line so far this season with a combined eight points in three games.
That includes an early third period goal against Washington on Tuesday night, when McGinn nimbly broke up a pass in the neutral zone, Tierney got to the loose puck, and found Wingels charging the net alone.
Wingels stayed with his own rebound to deposit his team-leading third goal, all of which have come at even-strength, to give the Sharks a 5-3 lead.
The Sharks would eventually surrender that lead and win in a shootout, but – with all due respect to John Scott – it was perhaps the nicest of the Sharks’ five goals on the night.
“They have a cohesion that exists amongst the three of them,” McLellan said on Wednesday. “It’s cliché that they keep it very simple, but they do. They play a strong north-south game. There’s not a lot of pull-up or delay in their game. Pucks go to the net.”
Wingels said: “Both [McGinn] and [Tierney] play a pretty detailed game both offensively and defensively. When you’re young you just kind of go out there and play and don’t think too much. Those guys have been doing a great job of that, and we’re making the most of our opportunities.”
After he was acquired in the summer, McGinn was no lock to make the opening night roster. He had a strong camp, though, and is now skating in the place that would probably be occupied by Raffi Torres.
He has two assists in his first three games with the Sharks after getting just five points in 18 NHL games last season with Philadelphia. He admitted that it’s nice to get a few notches under his name right away in a new sweater.
“It does help,” McGinn said. “Right now I’m just trying to play hard, play my game. If those things happen that’s a bonus.”
Wingels has been maybe the Sharks’ best forward through the first three games. He's tied for the team lead with four points, and is a regular participant on the power play and penalty kill.
On Tuesday he earned the primary assist on Matt Irwin’s power play marker, creating some havoc in front of the net while Irwin secured the rebound of a Matt Nieto shot.
The 26-year-old mentioned over the summer that he would like to concentrate on maintaining his effectiveness throughout the season, after he had just one goal in his final 23 regular season and playoff games in 2013-14. That can be tricky due to his reckless, hit-everything-that-moves approach to the game, but he seems to have a plan this season.
“The way I play is a physical style, the body wears down, so you’ve got to do as much as you can throughout the season to keep your body healthy,” Wingels said. “You see some of the older guys who lift more often in-season because they know they need the strength later on.”
His importance to that third line can’t be understated, either. Whether McGinn stays there, or Goodrow reclaims that spot when he’s ready, Wingels is the guy who is expected to keep the train on the rails.
According to McLellan, that’s what has happened through the first week of the regular season.
“I think Tommy Wingels has done a tremendous job in leading that line and making sure that his linemates feel comfortable and are ready to go,” he said. “We feel good about putting them on the ice.”
Wingels said: “I think [Tierney] and I have established chemistry early, and when [Goodrow] was on that line he fit in great. I think the two of them have chemistry, but Ginner is doing a good job of fitting in, and we’ll look to continue being an effective third line.”