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Wingels retains spot on Sharks' top line

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- It was midway through the second period of the San Jose Sharks' 5-4 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night when coach Todd McLellan began shuffling lines, looking for a spark.

Tommy Wingels jumped from the third line to the top line, trading places with Tyler Kennedy. Wingels joined center Joe Thornton and rookie forward Tomas Hertl. Wingels went on to score a third-period goal, as did Hertl and Kennedy.

Not surprisingly, McLellan will stick with the new-look lines that worked so well Tuesday when the Sharks play the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday at SAP Center at San Jose.

Wingels has earned his promotion with strong play throughout this season. Last season he had just five goals and 13 points in 42 games. This season he already has four goals and 11 points in 15 games.

"He's playing with a lot of confidence," Thornton said of Wingels after the Sharks' morning skate. "You can just tell. Even in practice he's scoring goals, and that usually translates into games."

Wingels, a sixth-round pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, has played with energy and grit since his debut with the Sharks three seasons ago, but lately he has become a much more dangerous scoring threat.

"I'm playing with confidence right now, and when you play a confident game your game tends to pick up," Wingels said. "It's something I'll look to continue to do."

It didn't take long for Wingels to start clicking with his new linemates.

"Everyone in this locker room is a great player," Wingels said. "When you get a chance to play with Joe you try to make the best of it. He's as good of a passer, playmaker and player as there is in this League. You just try to feed off him, get him the puck when he's open, but you can't force it to him because you got to stick to your game. You can't get mesmerized by trying to get him the puck too much."

Wingels has played only 95 regular-season NHL games, and Sharks center Logan Couture said he's learning how to produce points.

"He's going to the net, he's finding spots to score," Couture said. "When you put up points you find spots to give yourself an opportunity to score, to set other teammates up. I think Tommy's learned that a little bit. When you're a young guy and you haven't played a lot of games, there's still a lot of learning to do about how to get points in this League. I think Tommy's hitting his stride in that department. He's played well."

Sharks third-line center Joe Pavelski missed practice Wednesday and the morning skate Thursday for personal reasons, but he'll be in the lineup against Vancouver, McLellan said. Forward Brent Burns (head) will miss his eighth straight game.

The Sharks have lost three straight games, in overtime against the Los Angeles Kings and in shootouts against the Phoenix Coyotes and Sabres. They'll try to snap that skid against a Canucks team that they've defeated twice during this regular season and 11 times overall dating back to last season, including four Stanley Cup Playoff games and two preseason games.

"I think it comes in cycles," Canucks center Henrik Sedin said. "I think we had their number for a few years and now they have ours. Maybe it is a bit of a mental game too. They have a good team. They have a very good team. You look at their lineup. They have Pavelski on their third line. That's a pretty good third line centerman. They're deep, they're big, they're strong and they play fast. It is a tough matchup for anyone."

The Sharks beat the Canucks 4-1 in both teams' season-opener at SAP Center and 4-1 on Oct. 10 at Vancouver. Since that second meeting, the Canucks have gone 7-3-2 under coach John Tortorella.

"I think as a team we're playing a lot better," Sedin said. "We're playing a more aggressive style, keeping pucks in. I think we're tougher to play against down low. We're tougher to play against in our end as well. It's going to be a tough game tonight, but I think we're better suited today than we were three weeks ago."

Couture said the Canucks are "playing some of their best hockey" of the season now.

"So it's going to be a big challenge for us. They got their big guys going, they've got good goaltending," Couture said. "We're going to have to be at our best, a lot better than we have been the last couple games, to beat these guys tonight."

Here are the projected lineups for Vancouver and San Jose:


Tomas Hertl - Joe Thornton - Tommy Wingels

Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat

Tyler Kennedy - Joe Pavelski - Matthew Nieto

James Sheppard - Andrew Desjardins - Mike Brown

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun

Brad Stuart - Dan Boyle

Scott Hannan - Jason Demers

Antti Niemi

Alex Stalock

Scratched: John McCarthy, Matt Irwin

Injured: Brent Burns (head), Raffi Torres (knee surgery), Adam Burish (back surgery)


Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Ryan Kesler

Chris Higgins - Mike Santorelli - Alexandre Burrows

Darren Archibald - Brad Richardson - Zack Kassian

Tom Sestito - Jeremy Welsh - Zac Dalpe

Alexander Edler - Jason Garrison

Dan Hamhuis - Christopher Tanev

Ryan Stanton - Kevin Bieksa

Roberto Luongo

Eddie Lack

Scratched: Yannick Weber, Nicklas Jensen, Andrew Alberts

Injured: Dale Weise (leg), Jordan Schroeder (foot/ankle), Jannik Hansen (hand)

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