McLellan sets third line looking for production

McLellan sets third line looking for production
January 19, 2013, 8:45 am
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Last season, Michal Handzus scored seven goals in 67 games, Tommy Wingels scored three in 33 games, and TJ Galiardi had nine in 69 games. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

SAN JOSE – The names on the Sharks’ top two lines are familiar and still impressive, and they’re going to have to shoulder most of the load when it comes to offensive production.

But, most every team in the league has at least its share of dynamic forwards and goal scorers. On many nights, it’s production from the bottom two lines –- or lack thereof –- that ends up being the difference in a close hockey game. And in a 48-game season, there are sure to be plenty of those.

If head coach Todd McLellan sticks with his line combinations that he had all week in training camp, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t, that means Michal Handzus, Tommy Wingels and TJ Galiardi will have to put the puck in the net. Although only so much knowledge can be gained during scrimmages that don’t feature much physical play, that trio looks like it has some potential to do just that.

“So far, so good,” said Wingels. “I think we know each other well as players, the three of us. We know what each other are good at, and we know we’re going to be relied upon for some scoring.

“I think everyone knows how good our top six is here. The key to this team this year will be some depth scoring. The three of us, and I think the bottom six, know we have to contribute more than it has in the past. I think we’re ready for that opportunity and challenge.”

The third line was a glaring weakness for the Sharks in 2011-12, and was a work in progress for the entire season. It began with Handzus, Jamie McGinn and Torrey Mitchell. Handzus and McGinn showed had some chemistry at times, although not on a consistent enough basis, and McGinn was eventually dealt to Colorado for Galiardi and Daniel Winnik. Handzus’ ineffectiveness while playing through a hip injury forced GM Doug Wilson to trade for Dominic Moore, but Moore got hurt and had to deal with the tragic news of his wife’s illness and was ineffective when in the lineup.

Mitchell never found his groove, was a healthy scratch several times in the second half of the season, and his offseason departure to Minnesota as a free agent was no surprise after he finished with just nine goals in 76 games. Winnik brought some energy to the line down the stretch but had just three goals in 21 games, while Galiardi dealt with a back injury in March and never looked comfortable in his new surroundings.

The Sharks hope that Handzus has recovered from his ailments and becomes the steady, smart, positionally sound player they thought they were getting when they singed him to a two-year deal in the summer of 2011. The speedy Galiardi has now had a full, albeit abbreviated training camp with his new team, while the hard-nosed Wingels brings a physical element as well as some scoring ability.

At least, that’s how McLellan sees it.

“Gali has come in with a positive attitude, after being traded last year and maybe having a little bit of a down year. He’s provided some speed and some jump and I like his legs right now.

“Zeus, a completely different man. We all know what he had to deal with at the beginning of the season and never really got his game kick-started. He looks refreshed and ready to go.

“Tommy Wingels looks sharp. He can fire the puck. The combination of those three are going to have to provide some results if we’re going to have success.”

Last season’s stats are reason enough to question just how much production the Sharks will get out of these three players, though. Handzus managed seven goals in 67 games, Wingels had three in 33 games, and Galiardi had nine in 69 games between the Sharks and Avalanche (and just one with San Jose after the trade).

Wingels said there’s still polishing to be done, but seems content with his linemates as the Sharks prepare for opening night in Calgary on Sunday.

“I think the three of us work together well. I think in the practices and the brief scrimmage we’ve found our offensive game,” said the 24-year-old. “I think we need to clean it up a bit defensively, which we’re going to work on, but so far we’re pretty happy with how we’ve done.”