SAN JOSE -- Sharks center Joe Thornton had a fan’s view of the team’s last four games, and he said he liked what he saw.
“I think they’re playing great,” Thornton said Tuesday after his first practice since going on injured reserve Oct. 7. “I think the record could be 5-1, 4-2. We looked solid, [five-on-five] play looked really solid.
“But I really, really like our five-on-five play. It felt like what I was watching we were dictating most of the games.”
Thornton experienced swelling in his surgically repaired right knee the day after San Jose’s 3-2 overtime win over the Los Angeles Kings. In the next four games, the Sharks largely controlled play at even strength, attempting 58.92 percent of the five-on-five shots and out-chancing opponents 102-76, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Yet, the Sharks finished the Thornton-less portion of the trip 1-2-1, falling to 2-3-1 overall. That’s, at least in part, because San Jose scored on just 6.56 percent of its five-on-five shots, and 7.27 percent overall.
Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said the team wants to clean up some details but also must be prepared to just ride out this stretch.
“I think there are some things you can do to help yourself,” DeBoer said. “Some net-front traffic, and some more commitment to bearing down. But I also think you’ve got to be careful, too, and some of it is just sticking with it. There are stretches where it just doesn’t go [in].”
So, how did Thornton spend his week away from the team?
“Watched the games, played some Risk on my computer, go to hockey games with my kid,” Thornton said. “There’s always stuff to be busy with.”
Yes, Thornton -- along with a surprising number of NHL players, as Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt documented in a great story last year -- is an avid player of the Hasbro classic.
He grew up playing with his older brothers during his childhood summers, and has gotten some of his current and former teammates hooked: HC Davos roommate Rick Nash and former Sharks center Chris Tierney were among the converts mentioned in Prewitt’s story.
Gambrell earns 'a look here soon'
The Sharks did not practice Monday, so rookie center Dylan Gambrell spent the night in an AHL game, suiting up for the San Jose Barracuda. Gambrell scored or assisted on both of San Jose’s regulation goals, all with DeBoer in attendance.
The 22-year-old was one of the last cuts of training camp, and he traveled with the team after Thornton was placed on injured reserve. Gambrell has not played for the Sharks yet this season, but he now has five points in two AHL games.
“He’s gone down and handled the demotion the right way by being the best player on the ice most nights he’s down there,” DeBoer said. “He’s gonna get a look here soon, and hopefully he takes it and runs with it.”
Gambrell played on the wing at Tuesday’s practice, skating with Timo Meier and Logan Couture while Tomas Hertl sat for a maintenance day. Gambrell played on the wing in the preseason, too, and DeBoer said that can only help his cause.
“If you’re a centerman, you want to be able to knock on the coach’s door and say, ‘Hey, listen, I can also play wing until you need [one],' ” DeBoer said. “He’s got that versatility to his game because of his speed, so I think the more positions he can play, the more opportunities he’s going to get.”
While Kevin Labanc also sat for a maintenance day, Thornton returned to the top line alongside Joe Pavelski and Evander Kane. Other than him and Gambrell, there were no other changes to the line combinations and defense pairs from the end of the road trip, and they shook out as follows:
Evander Kane - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Timo Meier - Logan Couture - Dylan Gambrell
Marcus Sorensen - Antti Suomela - Joonas Donskoi
Barclay Goodrow - Rourke Chartier - Melker Karlsson
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Erik Karlsson
Joakim Ryan - Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon - Justin Braun
Radim Simek - Tim Heed
Second-line center Logan Couture collided with Rourke Chartier in a drill Tuesday, and appeared to be holding his wrist afterward. DeBoer did not have an update immediately after practice.
If Couture doesn’t skate Wednesday, the Sharks could ice much different lines in his absence.