Programming note: Panthers-Sharks coverage starts tonight at 7 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
SAN JOSE – There are a number of Sharks players currently riding the Struggle Bus, but two of the more notable names are forwards Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture.
Marleau has zero even-strength goals in his last 16 games (and just one on the power play), while Couture registered just one power play assist over the final six games of the team’s just-completed road trip.
For the first time this season, the two will start the game on different lines against Florida on Thursday at SAP Center. Marleau will be with Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl, while Couture will center Joe Pavelski and Matt Nieto.
“We’re going to split them up and give them some different linemates,” Todd McLellan said. “For both of them, they are extremely talented players. They are playing with a high level of frustration right now in their game.
“They, and we, have to ask them why. ... Can they be cleaner and more involved around the net a little bit more and coming through the neutral zone with the puck? Yeah, they certainly can. Hopefully shuffling the lines and [playing] here at home will make them more productive players.”
Marleau, who has five goals and 11 assists in 21 games, was asked what has to happen to get some of the team’s top scorers going again.
“Puck has to go in the net. Basically, the chances are there and we just have to find a way to get it across the line,” he said. “When they usually go in, they start going in in buckets. We’ve just got to make sure we don’t get frustrated and down ourselves, and keep working for those opportunities.”
The Sharks bottom two lines look to be James Sheppard skating between Tommy Wingels and Barclay Goodrow, while Andrew Desjardins, Tye McGinn and Tyler Kennedy will start as a fourth line. Scott Hannan will draw back in on defense, paired with Jason Demers.
Antti Niemi will play for the first time since Nov. 15 in Columbus, after rookie Troy Grosenick made the first two starts of his NHL career in the last two games.
In his last two appearances, Niemi has stopped 58 of 61 shots for a .951 save percentage and 1.52 goals-against average. He’s 1-3-0 in his career against the Panthers, with the lone win coming while he was still with Chicago.