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What can Sharks expect from Thornton, Couture if they play?

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			What can Sharks expect from Thornton, Couture if they play?

SAN JOSE — Joe Thornton was skating well, keeping up with his teammates as the Sharks went through line rushes Monday morning at their practice facility.

Logan Couture did the same, showing that he hasn’t lost a step while skating on a line with Joe Pavelski and Melker Karlsson.

“All those guys were moving a little better out there I think,” Pavelski said. “I hadn’t seen them skate to be honest, any of those guys. They jumped into practice and were moving pretty good.”

Practices are different from games, of course, but it was at least a positive development that both injured centers might be getting a tad closer to suiting up at some point of the Sharks’ opening round playoff series with the Edmonton Oilers.

Thornton left on the ice about midway through the Sharks’ roughly hour-long skate. Couture remained on the ice the whole way.

So what should expectations be for Thornton and Couture upon their return, whenever that is? Can Thornton keep up? Can Couture take a hard hit?

“If I go on the ice,” Couture said, “I’m going out there to play as hard as I can.”

Couture, who was struck in the mouth by a deflected puck in a March 25 game against Nashville, said Monday that the pain he’s experienced eating, breathing and talking has subsided just a bit. He did not take much in the way of contact on Monday.

“It’s painful. Think of a puck hitting you in the teeth and knocking six, seven, eight of them out. It’s not going to feel good,” Couture said. “I’ve got wires in my bottom (teeth) that are tightening to keep them from moving. Bond on the top three that they root canalled. It’s not pleasant.”

Couture plans to wear a full face cage whenever he does return, adding that it’ll be a long time before his face is completely healed.

“So anything to the face, it could possibly hurt it again,” Couture said. “Who knows? I’m wearing as (protective) gear as you can possibly wear and trying to be careful.”

But if he’s able to play early in the series, it’ll be a huge boost in all areas of the Sharks’ game.

“Logan Couture and Joe Thornton’s ability to play at the pace and the level they need to in the playoffs, I think it’s a big question,” said former Sharks forward Jeremy Roenick, an NHL analyst for NBC, on a Monday conference call. “And it will have a lot to do with whether they can get over the Edmonton Oilers.”

The Sharks went 4-3 without Couture to finish the regular season, which included two losses to Edmonton. They went 2-1 in the games without Thornton.

“In my mind I wish I could have played right after it happened,” Couture said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen going forward. I’m still, I guess you could say, day-to-day. We’ll go from there.

“If the game was today I don’t know if I would play. If it was tomorrow, I don’t know. So we’ll see.”

Thornton, too, is obviously just as critical a piece, with his elite ability to make plays and possess the puck, both at even strength and on the power play.

Monday, Thornton kept moving almost the entire time he was on the ice. He took line rushes with members of the Sharks’ fourth line, perhaps an indication, whenever he does return, that his even strength minutes will be limited with coach Pete DeBoer continuing to utilize him on the power play.

“The power play relies on Joe Thornton,” Roenick said. “Not having him 100 percent really diminishes the Sharks chances against a team like the Edmonton Oilers who are going to be absolutely flying on excitement, on their youth, their adrenaline, having a Connor McDavid leading the way.”

Thornton, through a team spokesman, said he did not wish to make any public comments on Monday but would talk Tuesday after practice and before the team left for Edmonton.

“I thought he looked good,” DeBoer said of Thornton. “It was a good skate for him, a good first step coming back.”

The Sharks’ other lines had Tomas Hertl at center between Jannik Hansen and Mikkel Boedker, and Patrick Marleau in the middle of a line with Joel Ward and Joonas Donskoi.

Thornton and Couture would clearly be welcome additions to the lineup whenever they do return. What they look like once they’re back in a game will be a question only answered in time.

“We’re a team that’s about our depth and we’ve got lots of it here,” DeBoer said. “This isn’t the first injury we’ve dealt with. Hertl missed a big chunk of the season and Couture missed a big chunk of the season.

“We’ve dealt with this all year, so it’s nothing that’s new to us.”

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