What Does Joonas Donskoi's Absence in Game 3 Mean for the Sharks Forwards?

For the second straight game, the Sharks will be without a first-line winger. 

With Evander Kane set to return from his one-game suspension, linemate Joonas Donskoi will not play in Game 3 against the Vegas Golden Knights Monday night, San Jose head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters at the morning skate. Donskoi is dealing with a "lower-body" injury that DeBoer "doesn't anticipate [is] serious." 

The Finnish forward missed practice on Friday ahead of Game 2, and only played 10:05 in the Sharks' 7-0 loss in Game 1. He skated an additional 6:14 in Game 2 on Saturday, but the bulk of those minutes came in regulation. Donskoi only took five shifts in the first and second overtimes, and played a combined 3:03 in those shifts. 

San Jose will particularly miss Donskoi five-on-five. With Donskoi on the ice, the Sharks attempt 53.73 percent of the five-on-five shots, and just 49 percent with him off of it. Including the regular season and playoffs, Donskoi's relative corsi-for percentage (4.73 percent) is the best among the team's forwards, according to Corsica Hockey, and 30th-best league-wide among the 367 forwards that have played at least 500 five-on-five minutes during the regular season and playoffs. He's also been one of the team's most productive five-on-five scorers (1.58 primary points per hour, second on the team) all year. 

Chris Tierney, normally San Jose's third-line center, was on the top line during the morning skate and will take Donskoi's place there to start the game. Tierney played about five-and-a-half minutes five-on-five alongside Pavelski in Game 2, according to Natural Stat Trick. All of those minutes occurred in the two overtime periods, according to Shift Chart. 

DeBoer's thrown Tierney on to the top line before, primarily late in games when the Sharks trailed and needed a goal. On paper, Tierney's playmaking ability would seem to make him a solid fit alongside Pavelski and Kane, but the trio didn't quite click in terms of puck possession during the regular season. The three played 38:34 with one another during the regular season, posted a 45.57 percent five-on-five corsi-for percentage, and were out-scored 3-2. 

They did, however, create quality chances together. Tierney, Pavelski, and Kane's five-on-five expected goals-for percentage (61.85) and expected goals-for rate (5.52 per hour) are the best and third-best marks, respectively, among San Jose's 23 line combinations that played at least 35 five-on-five minutes in the regular season.  Considering that expected goals are a better predictor of future goal-scoring than corsi, and that the trio is likely to get better goaltending than their .880 on-ice save percentage, DeBoer's decision has the potential to be a shrewd one, even if it leaves the Sharks thinner in the bottom-six.

Barclay Goodrow, who did not play center professionally prior to this season, will center Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc on the third line. Goodrow spent a good amount of time as the fourth-line center prior to the acquisition of Eric Fehr, but only played a hair over 60 five-on-five minutes alongside either Meier or Labanc this season, and just 1:22 as a trio. When Goodrow was on the ice with either player, though, San Jose out-chanced (37-28) its opponents and generated more high-danger scoring chances (17-4), according to Natural Stat Trick. It's worth noting that the bulk of those differentials came alongside Meier (plus-nine in scoring chances, plus-11 in high-danger chances).

There's not all that much to go on to evaluate the new-look first and third lines, but the little bit there is should encourage the Sharks. Of course, so would a win in Game 3. 

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