SAN JOSE – Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart’s return to the lineup from an unspecified upper body went well for two games. The 34-year-old veteran was thrust right back into active duty against the Flames and Oilers early in the week, playing nearly 20 minutes the first night and more than 18 the second.
Against Winnipeg on Thursday, though, a pair of misplays led to Jets goals. Stuart was caught deep on an odd-man rush that resulted in Andrew Ladd’s tying marker in the first period, and he was forced to hold Michael Frolik late in the third on a penalty that contributed to the game-winner by Toby Enstrom.
“I just got caught in between, yeah,” Stuart said of his untimely holding minor, that was followed soon after by Logan Couture's delay of game. “When you make the decision and you’re just caught in the middle...I tried to recover, I just couldn’t do it. Obviously, I should have been a little more cautious and just kind of backed out.
“Those are the little things in the game that I’m still working on getting. Physically I’ve felt good, it’s just the little reads and the little things that you’ve just got to get back to doing well consistently.”
Stuart missed the first 13 games after the Olympic break, getting hurt on Feb. 7 against Columbus. Mistakes aside, Todd McLellan liked the rest of Stuart’s game against the Jets, which included four hits and two blocked shots.
“His first two games were exceptional considering how long he had been out,” McLellan said. “I still think Stuey did a pretty admirable job. Played physical, blocked shots. A couple reads here and there, but he’ll be fine when the playoffs roll around.”
Conversely, McLellan sensed that another of his blueliners, Dan Boyle, took some comfort in scoring his first goal in 30 games.
Although, really, anyone who saw Boyle’s reaction to his ninth goal of the year witnessed a weight seemingly being lifted off of the 37-year-old’s shoulders.
“I could see the relief in his body language and the way he carried himself,” McLellan said.
“It was good to get that out of the way. His game has been sharper over the last little bit, which is nice. The power play has been clicking a little bit more, and he’s been a big part of that. Maybe he is getting to where he needs to be at the right time.”
Speaking of the defense, the Sharks will have to be better as a team in that regard than they were in the 4-3 loss to Winnipeg, if they want to have success against an impressive Colorado team that is on the verge of clinching a playoff spot.
Colorado would clinch its place in the postseason tourney if Dallas loses to Nashville in any fashion on Friday night. The Avs (46-21-6, 98 points) are idle.
“They’ve had a great year. You can see their belief system is very strong right now. They believe in what they’re doing, they believe in each other,” McLellan said.
The Sharks’ last trip to Pepsi Center on Jan. 4 was a 4-3 loss, in what was also an afternoon start. San Jose fell behind 4-0 before making it close.
“The last time in, we were in the situation where we had to play an afternoon game and obviously didn’t start out very well, so we’ll be looking for a better response from our group when it comes to that,” McLellan said. “It will be one of the tougher games we have left.”
Matt Nieto said: “We played a couple [afternoon games] this year, and it’s really important to come out fast and hard, especially when we’re on the road.”
Logan Couture did not skate on Friday, but will play against the Avalanche. … Raffi Torres will not make the trip to Colorado, and remains out indefinitely. McLellan said: “Raffi will play when Raffi is ready to play, and there’s absolutely zero risk of injury reoccurring. He’s not at that point right now.”