SAN JOSE – It’s been less than two weeks since the Ben Smith and Andrew Desjardins switched places.
They’re both expected in the lineup for their new teams on Saturday afternoon in a showdown at SAP Center between the Sharks and Blackhawks, as San Jose closes out a four-game homestand with the perennial Stanley Cup contender.
“A little weird, but it’s a hockey game. We need the points,” Smith said. “Whatever individual wish I have to beat them, it’s even more important for the team to get the two points.”
Smith said there wasn’t anyone in particular he was looking forward to facing. Still, “I’m sure there will be some chirping out there and some friendly banter.”
The 26-year-old arrived in San Jose just in time to play on March 2 against Montreal. He registered one goal, the game-winner, and added an assist while centering the third line in a 4-0 win over the Canadiens. That kicked off a current four-wins-in-five games stretch for the Sharks that has allowed them to get back into the playoff discussion.
Since then, though, Smith has been bumped to the fourth line with John Scott and Barclay Goodrow. In his last four games he has one assist, and has seen his ice time go from 17:10 against the Canadians to 8:09 on Monday against Pittsburgh, and an even 10 minutes on Thursday vs. Nashville.
He admitted he’s still adjusting to life as a Shark.
“It’s still a learning process, getting to know the coaches and the systems and trying to fit in,” he said. “But, it’s a process that will probably go on. It’s hard to flip a switch in a week or two and find your way. So, that will continue, and hopefully we can keep winning some games.”
Todd McLellan said: “When you change teams that late in the year, it’s really hard with a lack of practice time because of fatigue and that type of stuff to acclimatize yourself. But, I think Ben has done a tremendous job. We see him fitting in very well, the ability to play center or wing, his penalty kill ability, the energy that he brings to the forecheck, and the spark that he’s given our team. Just the change alone has added a breath of fresh air to the group.”
As for Desjardins, the 28-year-old pending unrestricted free agent has played in just one scoreless game with Chicago so far. After the Blackhawks’ Joakim Nordstrom was handed a two-game suspension on Friday, though, it’s likely Desjardins will get the opportunity to go up against his former teammates.
The Blackhawks practiced at Sharks Ice on Friday.
Desjardins said: “It’s kind of a strange feeling right now, you know? It has been such a short time, but it’s going to be exciting, I think, to play in the building again and it should be fun. … It’s just pretty surreal right now just to be here again. But I’m here, and it’s a two big points tomorrow. Motivating.”
Scott, who played several games on a line with Desjardins, indicated it’s a bit more complicated facing your friends in a checking, energy-type role. He's been in that situation before.
“It’s different, because you want to go out there and play your role but you’re also kind of second-guessing nailing these guys,” Scott said. “It’s different, but you’ve got to put that aside this time of year. It’s a strange experience.”