Programming note: Lightning-Sharks coverage begins tonight at 7 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
SAN JOSE – Sharks forward Brent Burns is a go.
Head coach Todd McLellan essentially confirmed that Burns would make his return to the lineup after missing exactly one month, when the Sharks host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at SAP Center.
"He's going to come off of [injured reserve], so there's a real good chance that he will play. We'll see how he is when he comes to the rink, but he's telling me now that he's ready. He looks ready, and right now he is."
Joe Thornton said: “He just adds so much for the forwards up front. He’s a big body that moves very well, gets in on the forecheck real well, [and] makes our lineup that much better.”
[RELATED: In the Crease: Lightning vs. Sharks]
Burns has been scratched for the last 13 games, after taking a series of high hits that included a whack in the face from Ottawa goaltender Robyn Lehner on Oct. 12. He had four goals and four assists in his first eight games on a line with Thornton and Tomas Hertl, with seven of his eight points coming at even strength.
It’s been a revolving door on the right wing of Thornton since Burns went out. Tommy Wingels has skated in that position lately, but with Burns back, Wingels will drop to the Logan Couture line with Patrick Marleau, while the third line will consist of Joe Pavelski with Tyler Kennedy and Marty Havlat.
The Sharks are 6-3-4 since Burns came out of the lineup, after going 7-0-1 in their first eight games when he was healthy. Overall, San Jose is 23-9-2 since Burns became a forward last March.
McLellan said: "I think anybody who's watched us play realizes that his size and his tenacity is his biggest asset, but he can also shoot the puck and finish. … When he's playing well, it kind of puts everybody else in their right spots, if that makes any sense at all, as far as lines go.”
Marleau said that Burns – one of the more boisterous personalities in the Sharks’ dressing room – can provide an emotional lift, as well as on the ice.
[RELATED: Sharks hope for boost from Burns, Havlat]
“You like to see guys in the lineup healthy, and you feel for them when they’re out,” Marleau said. “But, it gives everybody a little extra boost when they come back in. Another familiar face, and obviously a big part of our hockey team.”
McLellan said: “You don't take a 6-foot-5, 230-pound player out of your lineup that can skate and shoot like that and not miss him. It's as simple as that. He is a big, big part of our team.”
* * *
Indications are that rookie Matt Nieto will come out of the lineup for the first time to make room for Burns. Forward John McCarthy and defenseman Matt Irwin also look to be healthy scratches against the Lightning.
In line image of Brent Burns, Tomas Hertl and Jason Demers provided by the Associated Press