Injuries Force Sharks to Experiment Up Front

oach Peter DeBoer rolled four mostly-new lines in Thursday night's 5-3 loss to the Nashville Predators. Entering Thursday, none of San Jose's four forward combinations had averaged more than two-and-a-half minutes per game together, and none had played together for more than 10 minutes in a single game.

Injuries forced DeBoer's hand, as the Sharks were down two top-six forwards (Joe Thornton and Joonas Donskoi), as well as two bottom-six forwards (Eric Fehr and Barclay Goodrow), but you wouldn't necessarily expect this level of experimentation so late in the season. Yet the experiment largely worked, as the Sharks played one of their best games this season. 

Parades to the penalty box and a late push with a pulled goalie ensured that the game was played at five-on-five for just under two-thirds of the game (39:49), the seventh-smallest portion of any game this season. During this portion, though, the Sharks controlled much of the game, out-attempting the Predators 45-38 and out-chancing them 27-21, according to Natural Stat Trick. 

Only the second line (Logan Couture, Timo Meier, and Mikkel Boedker) was out-possessed, and just barely (10-9). The Sharks were outscored, of course, but the process was there against one of the league's best teams.

That should encourage DeBoer as the season winds down, and as injuries will continue to be an issue. Thornton's told reporters that he will not return until he's 100 percent, and Goodrow is out for the foreseeable future after undergoing surgery to fix a broken finger. Fehr and Donskoi are closer, DeBoer told reporters at the morning skate on Thursday, but neither was ready to play against Nashville.

It's also a good sign because there aren't many other players left to turn to. Recently-signed center Dylan Gambrell is traveling with the team less than a week after playing his last NCAA game, but he won't have his first full practice with the team until Monday. The Barracuda's season is winding down, but pretty much every NHL-ready "prospect" is up with the Sharks already, depending on your thoughts on Rudolfs Balcers. 

In other words, San Jose's forwards are stretched incredibly thin at the moment. DeBoer tinkered on Thursday as a result, and largely made the most of it with a patchwork group. 

The remaining schedule (Vegas, Dallas, Colorado, and Minnesota) works as a decent proxy for how well a shorthanded group can play in the postseason. Thursday was a solid start. 

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