Tommy Wingels started as the fourth line center for the Sharks last night, a decision forced on Pete DeBoer in part because of the illness to Timo Meier. The Sharks’ depth centers (read: not their center depth) is something of a concern for me, but in last night’s win over the Kings both Wingels and Tierney played well enough.
Focusing on Wingels’ game, it’s important to note he did not start a single shift in the defensive or neutral zones. That’s not all that surprising for a fourth line in the NHL — why choose to send them into a tough position unless you absolutely have to?
Wingels did take two neutral zone faceoffs and did not take any in the defensive zone. He lost his two neutral zone faceoffs but won four out of the five he took in the offensive zone to finish with a 4/7 night in the faceoff circle. This isn’t a part of Wingels-as-center that I’m particularly concerned with unless he puts up goose eggs every night, but it’s nice to see anyway.
From a possession perspective, Wingels matched up well with the Kings’ fourth line. That’s to be expected given how god-awful the Kings’ depth forwards are right now. Instead of dressing Nic Dowd they sent out Andy Andreoff, a player who’s serviceable but offers none of the scoring upside that Dowd certainly will. All the better for San Jose.
While the most shots came with Wingels playing against the fourth line, he actually saw more ice time against the Anze Kopitar line, as evidenced by the following chart from hockeyviz.com.
The bigger the square, the more ice time. The darker the square, the more shots. More blue means the Sharks player edged possession, more red means the opposite. Cool? Since it can be tough to figure out the narrow battles, here’s how Wingels performed in the shot department, also from hockeyviz.com.
Not terrific. Part of that is probably because he saw as much time as he did against the Kopitar line, but frankly the Sharks’ fourth line was only even against the Kings’ which should be a cause for concern. Yes, the Sharks won the game, but they really should have dominated a lineup that’s very, very thin right now. Some of that comes back to the Sharks’ bottom six.
My concern with playing Wingels as the fourth line center isn’t rooted in fear he’ll be embarrassed by other fourth liners, it’s that the Sharks may be missing an opportunity to turn the tables on thinner teams. This may all be a temporary issue once Meier joins the squad, and if that’s the case then there’s nothing wrong with Wingels filling in as an understudy.
As far as first impressions go, Wingels looked fine. If it’s a long term solution, we’ll have problems — but for now, there’s no need to panic.