Programming note: Blues-Sharks coverage starts tonight at 7 p.m. with Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
SAN JOSE – The Sharks will be without center Joe Thornton on Saturday night against the Blues, after their leading scorer was injured on Wednesday night in Anaheim.
Head coach Todd McLellan said Thornton, who practiced with the team on Friday, is day-to-day and “feeling pretty good” after Thornton was nailed by Anaheim’s Clayton Stoner midway through the first period of San Jose’s 3-0 win.
McLellan was asked if he’s confident his team can overcome the loss of Thornton, who has 33 points (9g, 24a) in 38 games.
“We did the other day for two-and-a-half periods. I thought we played one of our better games in Anaheim against a very good opponent,” McLellan said.
“When you lose a player of his stature and caliber and skill level, everybody has to pick it up a little bit. If that happens, we give ourselves a chance. If it doesn’t, we’ll be chasing it from behind.”
McLellan indicated that Thornton, who was favoring his left side after the hit, would be kept out so as not to make the undisclosed injury any worse.
“I told you yesterday we wouldn't put him in a situation where it was high risk and lead to a longer period of not being involved,” McLellan said. “The medical staff made that decision, and we'll see how he is tomorrow morning."
The Sharks will shift Joe Pavelski to center between Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto, while the second and third scoring lines will remain the same. Tye McGinn will enter on the fourth line.
“In my time here we haven’t had [Thornton] out of the lineup very often, but it still opens another chance for somebody else and guys have to be ready to play and bring their game,” Pavelski said. “If everybody contributes like we did the other night in Anaheim and play a good, tough game, we should be able to make up for what we lose.”
Thornton, 35, has played in 319 consecutive regular season games, the third longest streak in franchise history. He has not missed a game due to injury since April 2, 2010, and has not missed a game at all since Nov. 9, 2010, when he was serving out a two-game suspension for hitting then-Blues forward David Perron.
Nieto will be playing in his third game since missing four weeks with an ankle injury. He was bumped up to the Pavelski line after Thornton’s injury against Anaheim, after starting on the fourth line.
“I’ve felt great,” Nieto said. “At the start the game seemed really fast, but I think I’ve adjusted pretty well. Just trying to play simple, and simplify my game until I get my legs all the way back and start feeling good with the puck.”
The Blues, on the other hand, will welcome a key contributor back into thelr lineup as left wing Jaden Schwartz returns from a right foot injury suffered on Dec. 16 vs. Los Angeles when he blocked a Drew Doughty shot. Schwartz is St. Louis’ second-leading scorer with 27 points (11g, 16a).
Without him, the Blues are 1-5-1 in their last seven games, including a 4-3 defeat in Anaheim on Friday night.
“They come as advertised,” said McLellan, whose club claimed a 3-2 overtime home win over St. Louis on Dec. 20. “They're big, strong, a hard team to play against. If you don't play that kind of game, you end up on the short end of the stick."
Pavelski doesn’t expect a fatigued Blues team, despite them playing last night. After all, the Sharks played a strong game in Anaheim on Wednesday, one night after looking lethargic against the Canucks.
“That doesn’t matter right now. We lose the other night and play a much better game on the second one,” Pavelski said.
“I’m sure they’ll be ready to play, I’m sure they’ll find energy to play. It’s up to us to create our own energy and get off to a good start. A good start definitely on back-to-backs goes a long way.”