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.
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.