The Sharks team that took the ice against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night is not the one San Jose entered the season with. Heck, it's not even the one it entered the month with.
Captain Logan Couture has been out since early January with a fractured ankle. Tomas Hertl was the next marquee player to fall, tearing ligaments in his knee and ending his season on Jan. 29. All-world defenseman Erik Karlsson lasted two additional weeks before his season ended with a broken thumb. Evander Kane isn't injured -- that we know of -- but he hasn't played any more recently than Karlsson, as Thursday's 2-1 loss marked the third and final game of his recent suspension.
And what has all that left the Sharks with? A giant, gaping hole at the top of their lineup.
"I think those are the games where you sort of see that lack of offense, that lack of skill that's out of our lineup really play effect," San Jose interim coach Bob Boughner said following the one-goal defeat at Prudential Center. "You can get by some nights with it, and if you get a power-play goal or you get a couple bounces, you get some puck luck, but on nights like this, you don't have a Karlsson, you don't have a [Couture], you don't have Hertl, you don't have Kane -- those are the guys that chip in those one or two extra pucks a night."
Against the Devils, the Sharks did not score a power-play goal, nor would you describe them as being particularly lucky with the way the puck bounced. Without those additional boosts, it's clearly going to be tough for San Jose to get by in its extremely diminished state, even against a similarly struggling team like New Jersey. Team Teal simply doesn't have anywhere near the margin for error that it is accustomed to.
The only goal the Sharks did score Thursday wasn't lucky, and it came from a group of players who likely wouldn't have even been on the ice if not for the laundry list of absences. Defenseman Tim Heed, playing in his second game since Karlsson went down, got San Jose on the board with a shot through traffic from the point. Jacob Middleton, playing in his first game since Brenden Dillon was traded to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, earned the primary assist. Alex True, appearing in his seventh career NHL game (all since Hertl got hurt), had the secondary helper, continuing a stretch in which the 22-year-old rookie has taken advantage of the opportunity afforded him. It was his fourth point -- all assists -- since making his debut.
"He has come in and been very detailed," Boughner said of True. "He has provided us with that big center that we need on those depth lines, and he has chipped in offensively. He has got a few points here of late, and it's because he's in, he has got that reach, he has got that stick on puck. He's trying to be physical, so I think that helps us. We're getting depth scoring from those guys. Unfortunately, no offense coming from the top of the lineup."
The lack of scoring from the top of the lineup -- or what's left of it, at least -- is obviously a major concern. But at the very least, some of the players whose paths to the NHL were previously blocked are proving they deserve to be part of San Jose's future.
And, given the current state of the team, that's one of the best things that can happen for the Sharks throughout the rest of a season where dark clouds have been far more prominent than silver linings.