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Sharks vs. Panthers watch guide: Projected lines and defensive pairs

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Sharks vs. Panthers watch guide: Projected lines and defensive pairs

SAN JOSE — The Sharks look to keep their winning streak going as they return home for a three-game stint, starting with a Thursday night rumble with the Florida Panthers.

The Sharks will be without defenseman Radim Simek, who requires knee surgery following an injury he sustained during Tuesday’s 5-4 win over the Winnipeg Jets. Joakim Ryan, who last played on Jan. 22 against the Washington Capitals, will take Simek’s place on the blue line alongside Brent Burns.

San Jose also will be without Evander Kane for Thursday’s game, although coach Peter DeBoer told the media that he hopes Kane will be able to play in the near future. Erik Karlsson also remains out of the lineup with no definitive timetable set for his return to practice.

The Panthers visit the red-hot Sharks riding a two-game winning streak where they have posted six goals in back-to-back contests — not unlike when they defeated the Sharks 6-2 in Florida on Jan. 21. However, they’re sitting nine points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

[RELATED: How Hertl will help Sharks teammate Simek during knee injury]

This is the second and final time the Sharks and the Panthers will play each other this season. In 35 total matchups between the franchise, San Jose has a 14-11-7-3 record.

Sharks projected lines and pairs

Timo Meier – Logan Couture – Joe Pavelski
Joonas Donskoi – Tomas Hertl – Kevin Labanc
Marcus Sorensen – Joe Thornton – Gustav Nyquist
Micheal Haley – Barclay Goodrow – Melker Karlsson

Joakim Ryan – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Tim Heed
Brenden Dillon – Justin Braun

Martin Jones – projected starter
Aaron Dell

Panthers projected lines and pairs

Jonathan Huberdeau – Aleksander Barkov – Evgenii Dadonov
Frank Vatrano – Vincent Trochek – Mike Hoffman
Dryden Hunt – Riley Sheahan – Troy Brouwer
Jamie McGinn – Henrik Borgstrom – Jayce Hawryluk

Michael Matheson – Aaron Ekblad
Keith Yandle – Mackenzie Weegar
Mark Pysyk - Josh Brown

Samuel Montembeault – projected starter
Roberto Luongo

Dylan Gambrell's improved play aiding Sharks' quest for four-line game

Dylan Gambrell's improved play aiding Sharks' quest for four-line game

SAN JOSE - One of the biggest criticisms of the Sharks at this early point in the season has been that its younger players hadn't stepped up yet.

That changed on Sunday evening in San Jose's 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames. 

Sure, San Jose's young stars Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Kevin Labanc all found the net in the victory. But when Hertl and captain Logan Couture addressed the media postgame, independent of each other, both pointed to newcomer Dylan Gambrell's emergence over the last few games as a key factor in the Sharks' recent success.

Gambrell's positive production as fourth-line center is giving San Jose more offensive depth. While the Sharks' forward attack is still a work in progress, the 23-year-old forward is evolving into the pivotal player the team needs.

"He's been given an opportunity and these last two games he's really shown what he's been capable of," Couture said. "When we have that line playing well and the other three rolling over, we're a tough team to beat."

Head coach Peter DeBoer agreed with the assessment of his captain.

"For him, that's all about competing," DeBoer said of Gambrell. "Sticking his nose in there and competing. His skill and speed will take over and he's starting to do that here regularly."

There was a spotlight on Gambrell heading into training camp after he signed a two-year contract following a season in which he bounced between the AHL and NHL. But the University of Denver product didn't readily establish his game when he was plugged into the top six through the preseason and, like the majority of the Sharks, struggled out of the gate in the first few games of the regular season. 

After penciling back onto the fourth line, Gambrell's game visibly changed. 

"I think he saw that he was close to being sent back. That's the reality of it," DeBoer admitted. "He wasn't as effective (in training camp) as he is now. And maybe that's on us. Maybe we asked him to do too much. We played him on the wing on the top two lines and maybe it was too much for him."

Back at the center position on that fourth line, however, the speedy forward has been on an upward trend. He's been more effective in the faceoff circle and more aggressive on the puck, which gives San Jose depth down the middle that they, frankly, have been missing since last season.

"He had a little tough start but now he's playing a really hard game and this is what we need," Hertl said. "Good on faceoffs, strong on the puck."

Continuing that higher level of compete can make the Sharks' quest to establish a four-line game a bit smoother. As San Jose has encountered through the first six games of the season, the Western Conference is stacked with teams that can get production out of any line they roll out onto the ice. While the Sharks' offense is still in the process of getting healthy -- Marcus Sorensen is still sidelined -- the team needs to get its four-line game in place if they're going to completing recover from their rough start to the season.

[RELATED: Sharks fans give Marleau standing ovation]

"In this league, you need four lines," Hertl summarized. "It's not about just one line. Every night you need four lines plus your goalie."

If Gambrell can continue this upward trend, the Sharks have a better chance of achieving that goal.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in San Jose's 3-1 win over Flames

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in San Jose's 3-1 win over Flames

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- Good play doesn't always carry over from one game to another. But after finishing strong and getting their first win of the season Thursday night, the Sharks hoped to build on that performance three days later when the Calgary Flames came to town.

Team Teal did just that, jumping out to an early lead and never giving it up, as they extinguished the Flames 3-1, tallying their second straight win of the season.

Here are three takeaways from Sunday's game at SAP Center.

Captain clutch

When Logan Couture's teammates described him during the preseason as a captain who would "lead by example," they really weren't kidding. No. 39 was one of the best players on the ice Sunday night -- not because he scored big goals but because he set them up and let his speed set the tone for the rest of the team.

San Jose's offense got two big jolts in the first 40 minutes, and both times it was from a goal that Couture set up. The second was most impressive, as he snagged the puck from Calgary forward Mikael Backland on a Sharks penalty kill and maneuvered up the ice to set up Tomas Hertl for San Jose's first short-handed goal of the season.

Jones stood tall

When San Jose's defense got a little loosey-goosey in the second period, goalie Martin Jones kept the Sharks in the game. Not only did Jones keep the Flames off the board during the first seven minutes of the opening period, but he also stopped a few breakaway attempts that could've erased San Jose's lead.

Needless, to say, Jones had his best outing of the season by far. With San Jose's defense still ironing out some kinks and cleaning up its 60-minute game, it was exactly the kind of confident performance this team needed.

The power of playing with the lead

It's pretty incredible how much momentum a team can get just from taking an early lead. Once Timo Meier found the back of the net and gave the Sharks their first first-period lead of the season, they had all the momentum in their favor for the rest of the frame.

The Sharks just need to make sure they don't let their defense regularly take its foot off the gas, as it did during Sunday's game. They might have had the benefit of getting a good performance out of Jones and playing against a tired Flames team, but that kind of play won't cut it against tougher teams. 

[RELATED: Sharks fans give Marleau standing ovation]

Getting into turnover trouble could doom them this coming week when the Eastern Conference-leading Carolina Hurricanes come to town.