Sharks

Joe Thornton back in action for Game 3 versus Oilers

Joe Thornton back in action for Game 3 versus Oilers

SAN JOSE – Joe Thornton made his 2017 playoff debut on Sunday at SAP Center in Game 3 of the Sharks’ first round series with Edmonton.

Thornton missed the final three games of the regular season and first two games of the playoffs with an apparent left knee injury suffered on April 2 in Vancouver. After going through his normal game day routine on Sunday morning in which he skated for approximately 15 minutes, Thornton returned to the Sharks’ top line with Joe Pavelski and Melker Karlsson.

In 156 career playoff games entering Sunday, Thornton has 121 points (27g, 94a) and a minus-25 rating. In 79 games in the regular season, the 37-year-old had 50 points (7g, 43a) and a plus-seven rating.

To make way for Thornton, forward Mikkel Boedker was a healthy scratch. Boedker, who signed a four-year contract with the Sharks in the offseason, was scoreless with a minus-one rating in the first two games.

Also of note was that Logan Couture, who suffered severe damage to his mouth on March 25, ditched the full cage he had been wearing through the first two games of the series. The second line center returned for Game 1 after he missed the final seven games of the regular season, and will require extensive dental work in the offseason. 

Couture skated on the second line between Patrick Marleau and Joel Ward, while the third line was Tomas Hertl with wingers Jannik Hansen and Joonas Donskoi. Chris Tierney centered a fourth line between rookies Timo Meier and Marcus Sorensen.

Sharks look to take advantage of homestand after tough road schedule

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USATSI

Sharks look to take advantage of homestand after tough road schedule

SAN JOSE – The stretch of the hockey season right around the holidays can be grueling. It’s a fact the Sharks know all too well.

The team has played in four back-to-back situations since Thanksgiving – with all but one of those games occurring on the road – and changed time zones just as many times. While no team will blame the schedule for fatigue or in-game woes, it’s easy to see the toll a schedule like San Jose’s can take.

Now that they spend the week at home, the Sharks can focus all their attention on cleaning up mistakes and improving on the better parts of their game.

“As a staff, we talked about trying to create some energy out there this morning,” head coach Peter DeBoer said Monday morning, acknowledging the team’s schedule has been rough. “It’s a grind, but nothing we haven’t dealt with before and we’ve got to get through it.”

The Pacific Division standings have become a lot more crowded since the Sharks back-to-back against the Canucks and Golden Knights back at the end of November. Headed into the Turkey Day holiday, the top of the standings was a standoff between San Jose and the Calgary Flames with every other team struggling to find consistency.

[RATTO: Sharks trying to show signs of new identity]

Since then, the Edmonton Oilers have cleaned up their act under the direction of a new coach. Vegas got a couple injured players back into their lineup to help push them over the edge. Heck, even the Anaheim Ducks have caught fire, going 8-2-0 in their last 10 contests.

San Jose currently sits tied with Vegas at 35 points -- two points behind Anaheim and five behind Calgary. If they want to stay in the pack -- or better yet, move ahead of it -- they’ll have to establish some key things during this week at home. That means taking the good things they did in their past two road games – yes, even in the loss against the Dallas Stars – and building on them, DeBoer continued.

“We just want to keep building our game,” he said. “We won three of four, (but) we still have things we need to work at."

The Sharks have the opportunity to really take advantage of the teams coming into their building this week. Monday night’s opponent, the New Jersey Devils, gives up the fourth most goals in the league.

Jumping on New Jersey early -- and not letting the defensive blunders creep in – could be the perfect recipe for opening up the two-game homestand on the right foot. Not to mention giving the Sharks a boost ahead of their Thursday night rematch with the Stars, who haven’t been nearly as consistent on the road as they have been at home.

Having two days in between games to practice at home and not have to travel doesn’t hurt either as the Sharks try to string more wins together.

“We’re finding ways to get points and cleaning up some things and just building our game,” DeBoer said. “I think we’ve got about seven games now until Christmas, and we want to try and get on a real run here if we can.”

Sharks' Lukas Radil shows he's not typical NHL rookie in win vs. Coyotes

Sharks' Lukas Radil shows he's not typical NHL rookie in win vs. Coyotes

The Sharks' lines changed a lot in the first 30 or so games of the season. The fourth line took plenty of different forms, as various rookies were called up from the AHL's San Jose Barracuda to try out their hand at the top professional level.

Rookie winger Lukas Radil played in a handful of games, and has stood out. 

He made an impression again Saturday night in Arizona, and got to play the hero as he notched his first NHL goal late in the contest to help give the Sharks a much-needed win.

“It’s everybody’s dream to play in the NHL, and for him to get his first goal and the way he got his first goal too,” Sharks winger Evander Kane said of Radil after the game. “Every time he’s in the lineup, he always brings something positive to the group. He’s a big, strong kid. Wins a lot of battles, and has some underrated skill too.”

Indeed, the Czech forward isn’t your run-of-the-mill NHL rookie. For one, he's 28 years old. He also spent the last three seasons with Moscow Spartak in the KHL.

The result is a rookie who brings a different level of physicality to the Sharks' bottom six, as he’s a big skater who knows how to use his size to his advantage.

“He’s not your typical first-year player,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said after a practice on Dec. 5. “He’s got the experience of playing in the KHL. He’s a man. Plays a heavy game, he moves around well for a big guy. He’s smart, he’s conscientious. You can put him on the ice and there’s a comfort level, which isn’t common with first-year players.”

That much was clear Saturday. Even before Radil netted a sweet back-handed goal in the third frame, he was working to get on the scoresheet. He did a great job eluding defenders throughout the contest, and getting in front of the net. It added a different look to the line including Barclay Goodrow and Melker Karlsson.

“He’s great to play with,” Goodrow said after Saturday’s win. “He holds onto pucks. He’s really good down low and fending off their guys once he gets the puck.”

All that work paid off late in the third period when Radil wrapped the puck around Arizona’s net, and then back-handed it top shelf. The cameras caught the rookie’s expression of sheer elation as he gave the Sharks a late-game lead.

“[He’s] worked hard to get here to this level,” DeBoer said after the win. “For that to be your first NHL goal, that’s pretty rewarding.”

Of course, even with that first goal under his belt, Radil isn’t just a player who can score goals. He’s also giving the fourth line a new identity.

“Our identity should be: Getting pucks in deep, getting momentum for our team, chipping in offense here and there,” Goodrow summarized.

Clearly, the atypical rookie is able to do all those things.