How Joe Thornton suspension affects Sharks' lineup in critical Game 4

How Joe Thornton suspension affects Sharks' lineup in critical Game 4

The Sharks won't have Joe Thornton on Tuesday night as he serves a one-game suspension in Game 4 against the Vegas Golden Knights, leaving a hole in the middle of San Jose’s lineup.

Trailing 2-1 in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series, San Jose needs to win in order to avoid facing elimination headed into Game 5 on Thursday. The Sharks have a replacement waiting in the wings -- pun intended -- but Thornton's absence because of his illegal hit to the head in Game 3 undoubtedly will be an obstacle. 

Through three playoff games, Thornton (one goal, two assists) is tied for third on the team in points, and ranks second in primary points (three). The Sharks’ Thornton-led third line has been a mixed bag 5-on-5 in this series, posting a 52.38 corsi-for percentage but controlling just 20 percent of the high-danger chances, but he was solid alongside Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen after the trio reunited for good in early March.

Still, San Jose largely weathered this particular storm early in the season. Thornton missed nine games in October, The Sharks went 5-2-2 during that span, and captain Joe Pavelski had particular success sliding over to center in Thornton's absence. He was a strong puck-possession player (63.27 percent corsi-for, 60.8 percent shots-for and 67.35 percent high-danger chances for) and scored four goals at full strength during that time.

Assuming Pavelski again mans the middle in Game 4, either Joonas Donskoi or Lukas Radil figure to take his place as a winger. It's possible both will play, as Sharks coach Peter DeBoer told reporters Monday in Las Vegas that Micheal Haley was "day to day" after blocking a shot and not returning in Game 3. Who they -- and Pavelski -- would play with is another question entirely.

[RELATED: How beef between Kane, Reaves evolved over the years]

Radil's most common linemates during the regular season were Barclay Goodrow and Melker Karlsson, so it seems likely he would slot into the fourth line in Haley's place if he can't play. Donskoi played more 5-on-5 minutes with Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl than he did with anyone else, but Pavelski barley played with Labanc and Sorensen comparatively. DeBoer moved Pavelski alongside Kane and Hertl in the third period Sunday, so Pavelski centering Labanc and Sorensen can't necessarily be ruled out for Game 3. 

All of that is to say the Sharks will give the Golden Knights a much-different look up front Tuesday, and out of necessity. They haven't looked strong in two consecutive defeats, but you can be sure they'd still rather have Thornton in the lineup in Game 4.

Sharks 'not satisfied' after earning point in overtime loss to Sabres

Sharks 'not satisfied' after earning point in overtime loss to Sabres

The Sharks put up a good fight in a 4-3 overtime loss to the NHL-leading Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday. But even after picking up a point, San Jose isn't happy with where its game is at right now.

"We got a point, but by no means should we be satisfied with tonight's game," defenseman Erik Karlsson told reporters at KeyBank Arena. "We need to find ways to win games and right now we're not doing that. We've got to figure that out."

The Sharks are still trying to find consistency. Whether it's getting more out of all four forward lines or cleaning up costly mistakes, San Jose is trying to put all the pieces together nine games into the season. 

"We're getting a little bit better, [but] we're still not where we want to be," coach Peter DeBoer said. "But at least we're showing some signs of competing against really good teams here."

The Sharks were better Tuesday after losing to the Sabres at home on Saturday, rebounding from a dicey first minute of play on the road by going up 2-0 before the first period expired. However, Buffalo was able to rally back thanks to a couple of power-play opportunities and an offensive jolt from captain Jack Eichel, who ended the night with two goals and two assists.

While the Sharks' penalty kill usually is sturdy, mistakes cost San Jose on Tuesday.

"When you go on the road, you can't beat yourself," DeBoer said. "And you beat yourself with penalties, turnovers, specialties... We've got to be better in all of those areas."

The coach did, however, compliment his team's resiliency late in Tuesday's loss.

After Jeff Skinner gave the Sabres their first lead just 45 seconds into the third period, the Sharks got a visible jolt and took over the rest of regulation. Buffalo gained momentum in the second period, but San Jose took it back and outshot the Sabres 13-4 as Karlsson forced overtime with his game-tying goal. 

"I liked our response," DeBoer said. "I think it would have been easy at that point, early in the third when they scored again, to pack it in. And we didn't. I thought we pressed hard and had some chances to win it late."

Those chances to win Tuesday didn't come to fruition, however, and the Sharks will continue on their five-game roadie Thursday in Montreal with just one point in the bank.

[RELATED: Dell likely to earn start in goal on Sharks' road trip]

Whether the Sharks need to take fewer penalties or simply do a better job of not beating themselves, they have areas to work on if they're going to turn their season around. Until that happens, they probably aren't going to be happy with their full 60-minute effort.

"It's small things out there that win you games," Karlsson said. "We're on the wrong side of most of them, and that's something that we have to figure out. That's a learning curve that as individual players and as a team we've got to figure out this year."

Sharks' Aaron Dell likely to start at least once on current road trip

Sharks' Aaron Dell likely to start at least once on current road trip

Sharks bench boss Peter DeBoer said earlier this month that he'd like to play backup goalie Aaron Dell more this season.

And while Martin Jones will get the call Tuesday night in Buffalo against the Sabres, DeBoer told the media after morning skate he wants to give Dell more starts this season. San Jose's current five-game road trip through the Eastern Conference -- which includes a back-to-back later this week -- is the perfect opportunity for him to show he can take on a bigger role.

"We're going to split them in back-to-backs this year," said DeBoer, whose team plays the first of six regular-season back-to-backs later this week against the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. "We'll lock that in -- unless there are extenuating circumstances."

Sure, wanting to split up goaltending duties in a back-to-back situation is nothing new. And with two such cases popping up on San Jose's calendar over the next two weeks -- the Sharks play a back-to-back when they return from their current road trip -- it's the best option for the team as a whole. Plus, it keeps Jones fresh not having him start in net on zero day's rest, while also giving Dell a better idea of when he'll get to play.

But how Dell performs in these situations likely will also have a huge impact on how often DeBoer taps him to start over the course of the season. Granted, he has played the best hockey over his professional career when he's had fewer days of rest between starts, going 4-0-1 with a .938 save percentage on two days rest as opposed to 30-17-3 when he has rested for three or more days.

DeBoer told the media on Tuesday that a lot goes into deciding which goaltender starts a back-to-back. Jones' performance in Tuesday's game in Buffalo could be a factor. Dell's lone start in Montreal, in which he stopped 30 of 31 shots-on-goal and logged a .968 save percentage, could also play a role in the coach's decision. Whatever influences the situation, fans can be sure they'll see Dell start at least one game over the next week.

While Dell's record on the season doesn't indicate a stellar start, DeBoer has expressed that he likes what he's seen from his back-up's game so far. Having the option to play Dell more is exactly what San Jose's bench boss wants. 

[RELATED: Simek still a ways off, but Prout close to Sharks return]

"I wanted to play him more last year, but he didn't allow me that opportunity to," DeBoer admitted back on October 12. "So I told him over the summer that, 'I want to get you in more games than I did last year. I'm going to give you the opportunity early to play some more, but you have to help me and play well when you get in there.' And I think he did that."

The up-coming back-to-back will be yet another chance for Dell to show what he can do.