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At the Rink: Sharks at Blues

by Louie Korac /

ST. LOUIS -- Joe Thornton is close. However, the San Jose Sharks veteran center will have to wait another day.

Thornton, who recently saw his streak of consecutive games (319) stopped because of a shoulder injury, was on the ice Thursday for the Sharks' morning skate prior to facing the St. Louis Blues (24-13-3), but the veteran of 1,245 regular-season games continues to push toward a return the lineup.

"Close ... it feels a little bit better now so it's a good sign I guess," Thornton said. "It just [stinks] being injured. Really since my first year, the worst part is just getting bagged. I hate that. You try to play through everything, to be honest with you. Hopefully, I get back soon."

The Sharks have won two straight on the road and conclude their three-game trip against the Blues, who defeated San Jose 7-2 on Jan. 3, and return home to face the New York Rangers on Saturday. Thornton, who has 33 points in 38 games, hopes to play then. He will miss his fourth game against the Blues.

"I'm in agreement [not to play] right now," Thornton said. "Hopefully, tomorrow we'll get up and it's much better and play Saturday. That's what I'm hoping right now."

The Sharks (22-14-5), who defeated the Blues 3-2 in overtime at SAP Center on Dec. 20, have rebounded nicely after the recent loss to the Blues and hope for a better showing this go around.

"Before you get to X's and O's, you've got to get to the individual input and impact that you can have on a game using your skill-set and commitment level," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "There are some X's and O's, things that they did better than we did, but that's hard to determine whether that was a systematic thing or whether that was a commitment thing from our group because the things that we did 10 days before gave us a chance to win and it didn't work the second time.

"We'll take a shot at that here in St. Louis. I expect us to be much, much better, but it doesn't mean it will be an easier game. I think we'll have a tougher game. Their team is playing with a lot of confidence. That top line of theirs is producing points at will. They've got [Jaden] Schwartz back, which makes them even better. We saw that in San Jose. We've got our work cut out for us. I'm actually glad that we're heading into this game because it will give us a good idea if we can recover after being drilled by them in San Jose."

The top line McLellan is referring to is the combination of David Backes, Alexander Steen and T.J. Oshie, which has produced 29 points in the past six games.

Backes is coming off the second four-goal game of his career Tuesday in a 6-0 win against the Arizona Coyotes and has five goals and eight points in six games since the line was put back together. Oshie, who scored his second-career hat trick in the Blues' win at San Jose last week, has 11 points (five goals, six assists) in six games. Steen has 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in six games.

"They're a perfect example of playing the way they need to play to have success," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They're on the page defensively, they're on the page offensively, they're on the page on puck support. They're on the page on chemistry. They look quick because they're managing the game the right way. They are effective and a perfect example of what good players can do when everybody's on the same page on every shift. That's why they're having success."

It started against the Dallas Stars on Dec. 27 and the production hasn't wavered since.

"I think it was just that very first period that [Hitchcock] put us back together," Oshie said. "We had a great period ... I actually wasn't that good. They were good that period, but still, that game, I don't remember what game it was, but it just seemed like everything was more crisp, everything was quicker. We didn't have one guy always doing all the work. It's fun playing with guys that work for each other."

Here are the projected lineups:


Barclay Goodrow - Patrick Marleau - Tommy Wingels

Melker Karlsson - Logan Couture - Joe Pavelski

Tomas Hertl - James Sheppard - Matt Nieto

John Scott - Andrew Desjardins - Freddie Hamilton

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Brent Burns

Brenden Dillon - Justin Braun

Matt Irwin - Matt Tennyson

Antti Niemi

Alex Stalock

Scratched: Scott Hannan, Tye McGinn

Injured: Joe Thornton (shoulder), Tyler Kennedy (shoulder), Raffi Torres (knee), Mike Brown (lower body)


Alexander Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin - Paul Stastny - Patrik Berglund

Steve Ott - Maxim Lapierre - Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson - Kevin Shattenkirk

Barret Jackman - Chris Butler

Brian Elliott

Jake Allen

Scratched: Martin Brodeur, Joakim Lindstrom, Ian Cole

Status report: Hitchcock said Elliott will start Thursday to "keeping him up and running." ... Butler and Cole have been that fluctuating pair that rotates between the sixth and seventh defenseman. Butler will remain in the lineup. ... Lindstrom will be a healthy scratch for the eighth time in 11 games. ... The Sharks are expected to keep the same lineup they used against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday.

Who's hot: Vlasic has game-winning goals in each of the Sharks' past two games. ... Pavelski has points in 10 of 12 games (nine goals, five assists). ... Shattenkirk has six points (two goals, four assists) in three games. ... Stastny has points in five of six games (one goal, seven assists).

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