PITTSBURGH – In a Stanley Cup final where speed could end up being a determining factor, the San Jose Sharks got a lot faster for Game 2 when they announced winger Matt Nieto would be drawing back into the lineup after missing eight games with what is suspected to be a left shoulder injury.
Nieto has been out of the Sharks lineup since crashing into the net in Game 6 of their second-round series against the Nashville Predators. He was ready to go for Game 1 of the final, but the Sharks elected to sit him out. But after seeing how fast the Penguins are as a team and needed players who can keep up to that speed, Nieto gets the call for Game 2.
Sharks coach Peter DeBoer would not say how Nieto is expected to be deployed, but it’s expected he’ll take Melker Karlsson’s spot on the third line with Chris Tierney at center and Joel Ward on the right side. That moves Karlsson down to the fourth line with Nick Spaling at center and Tommy Wingels at right wing, with veteran Danius Zubrus likely being a healthy scratch.
“He brings us speed,” DeBoer said of Nieto. “A big part of our team all year. When he went down, we had some great contributions from guys to fill that hole. But he brings some things that are unique to his skill set that we think can help us.”
Nieto is not the biggest player, but he does give the Sharks a boost with his ability to get in quickly on the forecheck. He’s an energy player who can provide some offense, but his calling card in this series will be his ability to get around the ice. The 23-year-old who grew up in Long Beach and was first exposed to the game playing roller hockey at the local YMCA has come a long way to this point, his debut in the Stanley Cup final.
“To come in and see my name on the board that I’m in tonight is a special feeling. I’m going to take it all in,” Nieto said. “This is really an exciting time. It could be once-in-a-lifetime so I’m going to cherish it, take it all in and just have fun out there.”
The Sharks were put on their heels in the first period of Game 1 by the Penguins team speed and fell into a 2-0 hole early. One way to prevent that is to get pucks deeper into the Penguins zone and get on them quicker. The Sharks were beaten badly to almost every puck early in Game 1 and having someone with Nieto’s speed should help them remedy that.
“It’s just about making them come all the way up the ice and create offense,” Nieto said. “Once we started turning pucks over in the neutral zone, they’re really quick in transition attack. Stick pucks behind in their zone, forecheck and create turnovers.”
Sounds like a plan. Nieto is looking to get on track in these playoffs. He came into the post-season off a hand injury that forced him to miss the last 12 games of the regular season. Then he played 11 before his most recent injury. But at least he’ll provide some fresh legs to a team that needs them.
“I kind of went through a similar situation in the LA series, I was out for a month before that,” Nieto said. “I showed up and felt better than I thought I would. It’s hard to prepare for a game at this stage of the playoffs and being in the Stanley Cup final, but the adrenaline is going to kick in.”