Seemingly every time Tommy Wingels has been shuffled onto a different forward line this season, that combination's effectiveness skyrockets. With Brent Burns back in the lineup for the first time in thirteen games, the coaching staff had the luxury of slotting Wingels with Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture tonight against Tampa Bay. The result was two goals for Wingels, both of which were noticed by the on-ice officials this time, along with three-point nights for Marleau and Couture (with Steve Yzerman in the building, no less) as the Sharks blew out the Lightning 5-1, leapfrogging Anaheim for first place in the Pacific Division in the process.
With the teams trading chances over the first few minutes of play, Marleau and Couture recovered a dump-in a little over three and a half minutes into the game and set up Wingels for a snap shot inside the hashmarks which he promptly buried past Anders Lindback. Despite subsequent Lightning pressure, particularly on a power play during which the Bolts camped out in the San Jose end for the full two minutes, the Sharks strung together a series of effective shifts to close out the period, one of which led to Brad Stuart's second goal in a week. Wingels extended the Sharks' lead to 3-0 midway through the second, one-timing a perfect pass by Marleau from behind the Tampa net. Two goals nineteen seconds apart in the third, the first off Brent Burns' skate and the second by Marleau on a breakaway, made the final fifteen minutes of the contest academic.
The Sharks could still stand to tighten up their neutral zone coverage and Burns, despite the goal, understandably didn't look like he was completely back in game shape just yet as his line with Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl was perhaps the team's least effective. But, overall, there isn't too much to nitpick in a 5-1 win that once again hoists San Jose atop the league's best division. Unlike previous unsuccessful efforts against the likes of Buffalo and Winnipeg, the Sharks were able to capitalize on a Steven Stamkos-less Tampa Bay team down on their luck and in the midst of a grueling swing through the west coast. With Yzerman in attendance, Marleau and Couture may just have increased their Olympic stock to boot.
- It'll probably take a few more games for Burns to work his way back to being, well, Brent Burns but I thought he and that line by extension steadily improved as the game progressed. It seemed like Burns recognized his limitations early on and urged Jason Demers to press things offensively, both on the rush and in-zone, with Burns dropping back defensively in a less-taxing role.
- Didn't really have high hopes for the Tyler Kennedy/Joe Pavelski/Martin Havlat experiment working out but they certainly held their own at even-strength matched up primarily against the Alex Killorn unit, which I guess was Tampa Bay's second line in this one. Havlat in particular appeared to have a much stronger game on the puck after struggling in that area against the Blackhawks on Sunday.
- Logan Couture was aces in the faceoff circle tonight, winning 14 of his 19 draws, including a 9-for-12 showing in the defensive zone. There are a lot of reasons Todd McLellan consistently relies on him and Marleau to play the toughs, and that's certainly one of them.
- Including the waved-off OT winner against Buffalo, Wingels now has twice as many goals on the season as Dustin Brown. Just send him to Sochi already.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Tommy Wingels
2nd Star: Patrick Marleau
3rd Star: Logan Couture