SAN JOSE — Joe Thornton, to no one’s shock, will not be available when the Sharks host the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday in a game that will go a long way in determining who will have home ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
As long as Thornton and Logan Couture remain out, an opportunity remains for other Sharks players to show the coaching staff they belong to be in the lineup for the opening game of the playoffs — quite possibly against these same Oilers.
“Absolutely. That’s the message I want to give them,” said rookie forward Kevin Labanc, who had the overtime winner for the Sharks in their 3-2 win over the Oilers on Dec. 23. “So I just have to come ready to play hard and just work hard and do all of the little things right. That’s the playoff mentality. Just doing all of the little things right and not giving up a lot.”
Both Thornton and Logan Couture skated again Thursday morning. Thornton, who injured his knee Sunday in Vancouver, said Wednesday he might play against Edmonton even or Calgary on Saturday as the Sharks close out the regular season.
For the time being, Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said both Thornton and Couture remain day-to-day.
Micheal Haley will come back into the lineup after he sat out Tuesday’s game against Vancouver. Timo Meier, recalled Thursday morning after he scored twice for the Barracuda on Wednesday, will be a scratch, from all indications.
Thursday’s game will mark the fourth time this season Haley’s been in the lineup against the Oilers. In three previous games, Haley has made an impact with two assists, one fight and a plus-3 rating.
It certainly seems Haley would be a viable option to be in the lineup for Game 1 in a possible series with the Oilers, who have plenty of size and toughness to go with their obvious skill.
“They’re a well-built team and just want to bring that physicality element,” Haley said. “Just like it is against any other team. You get in on the forecheck, get it behind their (defensemen) and wear them out.”
Haley’s been in two playoff games before, both with the New York Rangers in 2013, and was asked what it would mean to him to be in the lineup for Game 1 of the first round.
“I don’t think about that,” said Haley, adding that his approach “hasn’t changed all year. Day by day. I come to work, glad to be here and glad to get to play hockey for a living. Every day, it’s a new day. Try and put your best foot forward.
“I’ve played playoffs in the NHL, but I don’t think about that stuff. It’s whatever you can do to help and be ready.”
For rookies like Labanc and Marcus Sorensen, Thursday’s game is the perfect time to show that they can skate and compete with the Oilers in a playoff-type atmosphere.
Labanc also made an offensive impact in the past against the Oilers, scoring twice on four shots in three games.
“I want to be an offensive threat, but at the same time, I also want to be good in my own end defensively,” Labanc said. “I feel like everyone’s going to be contributing and we just have to come together as a whole and really bear down and start getting ready for the playoffs.
“It’s not a one man show, it’s a whole team. Got to be all four lines working.”