SAN JOSE -- For the first time this season, the Sharks have a fully healthy roster.
Logan Couture will make his return to the lineup -- again -- when the Sharks host the Flyers on Wednesday night at SAP Center. Couture has missed the last seven games after arterial bleeding in his right thigh required surgery. Prior to that, he missed 23 straight with a fractured right ankle. He’s played just five games this season, with two assists.
The second line center has been skating for the past week, working to get his leg muscles back into shape and his conditioning level where it needs to be. He’ll resume his place between Patrick Marleau and Joel Ward.
“It’s never easy jumping back in after missing three months,” said Couture, who played in just two games after recovering from his ankle injury, before getting hurt again on Dec. 9. “It’s not going to be easy, I know that. I expect some hard times, some good times. I’ll give it my all.”
Coach Pete DeBoer will manage Couture’s minutes. In his return on Dec. 8 in Calgary, the 26-year-old skated for 12:38 in a 4-2 loss to the Flames.
“He’s a world-class player. It’s easier for those guys, because even at 80 percent he’s still a very good player,” DeBoer said. “That’s why the decision to put him in is easy, because even not at 100 percent, he’s still a very effective player and can help us in a lot of different ways.”
If there is a silver lining to his latest injury, Couture has had more time to allow his ankle to heal which could aid his return this time around.
“I think he’s in a better place physically than maybe he was the first time he came back from the ankle,” DeBoer said.
Regarding his ankle, which had a rod and pins inserted in October, Couture said: “I don’t know if I’m ever going to feel like I did before, but I’ve gotten used to it, and that’s something that you have to deal with when you have injuries.”
Couture’s return means that Mike Brown and Ben Smith will be healthy scratches, at least for one game. Melker Karlsson remains with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, while the fourth line features Chris Tierney between Dainius Zubrus and Tommy Wingels.
Competition for ice time, and to remain in the lineup, could ramp up with a fully healthy 23-man roster. There is no shortage of depth Sharks forwards that have had trouble putting up points lately.
“It’s nice to have some tough decisions to make on who’s playing and who isn’t,” DeBoer said. “That’s a spot every coach wants to be in.”
Patrick Marleau said: “It’s always nice when you’ve got all the guys ready to play. Good for the coaching staff to call whoever’s number they need and want.”
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The first Sharks-Flyers game on Nov. 19 wasn’t the most exciting affair, with San Jose winning 1-0 on a Karlsson overtime goal. Philadelphia outshot the Sharks in the game, 34-21, but Martin Jones was the game’s first star.
“We were fortunate to win that game,” DeBoer said. “When I look back at that game, they probably carried the play. They were the heavier team. We talked about that today, that we’ve got to be prepared for that.”
Marleau said: “We didn’t really get our forecheck going. … It allowed them to break out of their end a lot cleaner than normal.”
Philadelphia has been in San Jose since Sunday night, flying in after a 4-2 loss in Anaheim.
“They’ve been sitting here waiting for a couple days after a loss. We know that they’re going to come out ready to play, and we’ve got to make sure we are,” DeBoer said.
The Sharks are desperately seeking a home win, having lost four in a row at SAP Center. They own the NHL’s worst home record at 4-10-0, and have 10 of their next 13 in San Jose, including the next four.
“We haven’t played well all season at home,” Couture said. “It’s time to turn it around here. Obviously we know where we’re sitting. We’re not in a playoff spot. You’ve never comfortable when you’re out of the playoffs. There should be some urgency in our game.”