McLellan: 'It's time to play games'
Logan Couture hasn’t played since Jan. 5 in Chicago; his hand injury kept him of 16 games before the break. (USATSI)
Programming note: Sharks-Flyers coverage today at 3:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
PHILADELPHIA -- Ultimately, the Sharks probably want to get Joe Pavelski back to his role as third line center, giving the team three balanced and dangerous scoring lines.
For now, though, it appears that Pavelski will remain with Joe Thornton and Brent Burns against the Flyers on Thursday, in a loaded top unit. Pavelski, the Sharks’ leading goal-scorer with 29, at one point scored 10 goals during an eight-game stretch on that line from Jan. 7-23 before slowing down. He’s tied for fourth in the NHL in goals.
“Joe Pavelski is one of the leading scorers in the NHL and he’s one of the few consistent scorers we’ve had over the last little bit, give or take the last four or five games,” Todd McLellan said. ‘We just felt at this point coming out of the (Olympic break), he’s better served to be in that position with Jumbo and Burnzie. They were a line that really clicked for us.”
From there, Marty Havlat has been reunited with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau, on a line that had some success late last season. Couture will be playing for the first time since a hand injury kept him out for the previous 16 games before the break. He hasn’t played since Jan. 5 in Chicago.
“Last night, it was difficult going to sleep just thinking about how exciting it is to get out and play in an NHL game again,” Couture said on Thursday morning. “It feels like I haven’t played in like three years.”
Marleau sorely missed Couture, whom he had played with all season before Couture’s hand injury. Havlat, on the other hand, played some of his better games just before the break, including a two-point night against Dallas on Feb. 5 in which he set up Tommy Wingels for the overtime winner.
“Being with Marty, when he’s playing well with us, it’s nice,” Couture said. “We spend a lot of time in the other team’s end. We’re creative down there with creating scoring chances, and usually we get a couple.”
Another notable addition to the Sharks’ lineup is forward Raffi Torres, who will make his season debut. The Sharks are as healthy as they have been all season at the forward position, and are only missing rookie Tomas Hertl, who skated for the first time since a knee injury in December. Defenseman Brad Stuart is out for the three-game road trip with an upper body injury.
McLellan is anxious to see his team’s lineup near full strength, but cautioned that it doesn’t guarantee positive results.
“We’ve been waiting for the health of our team to improve. When you can bring [Couture and Torres] back into the lineup, that’s a very welcome thing,” he said.
“It can be a very dangerous thing, too. You can get a group of people that says, ‘Oh, good, we’ve got some of our top players back in the lineup and it’s going to get easy.’ It doesn’t get any easier.”
Alex Stalock will get the call in goal, providing starter Antti Niemi another day to get acclimated to the time change. Niemi was a part of Team Finland’s bronze medal performance in Sochi, although he did not see any game action.
Stalock is 8-3-0 as a starter with a 1.61 goals-against average and .942 save percentage. Niemi will likely play on Friday in Buffalo, according to McLellan.
San Jose will be looking to avenge perhaps its worst game of the season on Feb. 3 at SAP Center, a 5-2 loss to Philadelphia. The Sharks gave up four goals in the third period of that game, but were fortunate to be up 2-1 after the second period, as they were outplayed for most of it.
“When we look back at the Philadelphia game, I thought we were flat,” McLellan said. “There will be many fingers pointed to the third period where [we] gave up three or four goals. It was over before that.”
Keeping things simple could be the key, according to Joe Thornton, who is one of many NHL players that has not played in three weeks.
“Really its just keep the short shifts, stay out of the penalty box, trust the coach’s game plan and go from there. Everything quick, everything hard, but just get on and get off,” he said.