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Inside the Cage: Top Line Sync

The Sharks first line of Kane-Pavelski-Donskoi has combined for 16 points in three games

by Ross McKeon @rossmckeon / sjsharks.com

Well, that didn't take long.

Evander Kane, Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi appear to be three peas in a pod one week into forming a new and rejuvenated top scoring line for the Sharks. And it couldn't have come at a better time for San Jose.

Still searching for an identity while playing without injured Joe Thornton, the acquisition of Kane from Buffalo gave the team an emotional boost, especially after a challenging road trip against four Central Division foes that ended with three straight losses.

The emotional lift ratcheted up another couple of notches once the 6-foot-2, 212-pound Vancouver native hit the ice for his Sharks and showed exactly what he could add to the attack.

Kane's straight-line skating speed, combined with top-end skill and more than a dash of vinegar, was on full display as the Sharks won two of their first three with him in the lineup.

"As advertised," Sharks forward Logan Couture said. "He has tremendous speed, a great shot and plays hard. He fits what we do here - play hard, play straight forward, get in on the forecheck. That's what he does."

A natural left wing with 177 goals and 340 points in 557 games before coming to San Jose, Kane was a logical fit alongside Joe Pavelski, who was still getting his bearings at center ice after having spent the last five years on the wing. Coach Peter DeBoer had a decision to make to complete the line. With only two right-shooting right wings - grinder Melker Karlsson and youngster Kevin Labanc - DeBoer opted to shift the creative and left-shooting Donskoi to his off-wing.

And, while realizing lines can be fluid from period-to-period let alone an 82-game regular-season schedule, DeBoer hasn't had to even think about tinkering with what he has assembled.

With a pair of assists in his debut during a 5-2 win over Edmonton and another helper in a 7-2 victory over Chicago, Kane scored his first goal as a member of his new team on Sunday when San Jose's late rally fell short against Columbus. Kane's most effective game may have come in the loss. He assisted on San Jose's other goal, cranked off five shots on goal, led the team with six hits, won both his faceoffs and blocked a shot during 20:05 of ice time - second among forwards only behind Couture's 21:27.

Video: EDM@SJS: Pavelski deflects Kane's wrister past Talbot

"I kind of come from playing not-so-meaningful hockey to playing some meaningful hockey," said Kane, who scored 20 goals and 40 points in 61 games with a Buffalo team this year that was never in contention. "Obviously you get a little more amped up."

Rewind to the win versus Edmonton and - alongside Kane - Pavelski scored a goal, added three assists and was a plus-4 while Donskoi had a helper and was a plus-2. It was more of the same against Chicago when Pavelski scored two more goals while Donskoi collected two assists during a plus-3 performance.

Add the line's production against Columbus when Kane (two points), Donskoi (goal) and Pavelski (assist) accounted for five of the team's six points. All told, the line has combined for 16 points in three games together.

"We've just been in sync," Pavelski said. "It's not been one leading it, it's been Donnie driving it in or Kaner. We've been taking pucks to the net. We haven't been messing around with it too much. Whether it's backing teams off or opening space up we've been able to make some plays."

"We've been finding some chemistry with each other so it's been good so far," Donskoi added.

The Sharks knew they had a huge void to fill when Thornton went down with a right knee injury on Jan. 23 that required arthroscopic surgery. As he has been during a career that will land him in the Hall of Fame some day, Thornton was consistently productive by scoring 26 points in his final 28 games leading into the injury.

No one is expected to replace Thornton, who still hopes to return this season. But the addition of Kane, and his immediate impact on the team is exactly what general manager Doug Wilson hoped would happen when he made the trade.

"He's fitting in real well," DeBoer said. "I like his 200-foot game. The offense and the physicality are things you know he brings, but he's working really hard away from the puck defensively and he's been solid in his own end.

"Everybody in today's NHL is looking for speed, but you can't just have speed. You need speed that understands how to play. That's the thing with him, he gets it. He knows when to slow down and when to turn it on. He can make plays. He's a world-class player. "When you add a world-class player to your lineup it makes everybody better."

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