How much better would the Sharks be if they had healthy centers all season? We’re getting a clue now

How much better would the Sharks be if they had healthy centers all season? We’re getting a clue now

SAN JOSE – The San Jose Sharks would likely still not be in contention for a playoff spot right now even if they had been fully healthy at the center position all season long.

But without question, their record would be better than 13-31-4, and it wouldn’t have taken them over three months to earn their first three-game winning streak of the season.

The Sharks finally got to that point Tuesday, as third-line center Nico Sturm and fourth-line center Ryan Carpenter both netted third-period goals before Tomas Hertl scored in overtime to lift the Sharks to a 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers.

Jan Rutta had two assists in 23:09 of ice time for the Sharks, who are 3-0-0 – their longest winning streak of the season – since Sturm and fellow Logan Couture returned to the Sharks’ lineup on Saturday in a 5-3 victory over the  Anaheim Ducks.

“Just couldn’t be prouder of this team, and I’ve been proud of them on many occasions in a tough season,” Sharks coach David Quinn said, “none more than I am tonight.”

The Sharks, especially some of the heavy minute players, appeared to be feeling the effects of a third game in four nights on Tuesday. San Jose was coming off a 4-3 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night and didn’t get back home until after midnight early Tuesday morning.

But with the Sharks down 2-0, Sturm’s third goal of the season at the 2:19 mark of the third period gave his team a jolt. His shot from a sharp angle bounced off goalie Igor Shesterkin and into the Rangers’ net, giving him his first goal since Dec. 7 when he scored twice against the Detroit Red Wings.

Carpenter scored his third of the season at the 4:27 mark of the third period, redirecting a shot from Rutta past Shesterkin to tie the game 2-2.

Not for nothing, but the Sharks are now 12-14-3 with Sturm in the lineup. They’re also 7-8-2 with Sturm, Hertl, and Mikael Granlund all playing in the same game.

Not a playoff record, but hardly the worst in the NHL, either. The Sharks will enter Saturday’s home game with the Buffalo Sabres in 32nd place in the NHL’s overall standings, so the difference is obvious.

“It’s not just about one line for our team,” Hertl said, “but it’s about all four lines.”

The Sharks now have three games left before they begin a two-week break. Granlund is improving from an upper-body injury, but he likely won’t return until Feb. 14 when the Sharks resume their season with a game in Winnipeg against the Jets.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens if the Sharks ever do get Hertl, Couture, Granlund, and Sturm – all players signed through next season — in the lineup at the same time.

To be sure, it’ll probably hurt their chances of winning the draft lottery this spring. But that’s not what the current players are thinking about with close to three months left in the regular season.

”We all know what (Couture) means to us,” Quinn said. “It’s not a coincidence we have the record we do since he’s been back. It’s not a coincidence we have the record we do since we’ve had three of our centers, let alone four.

“But if you look at our record when we’ve had at least three of them in the lineup, it’s not bad. We thought that was going to be the strength of our team and it is, and to have three of them in the lineup makes a big, big difference for us.”

That’s also true on the penalty kill. After the Sharks killed all three penalties they took Tuesday, they’re now 7-for-9 on the man disadvantage in the last three games.

San Jose’s penalty kill has struggled all season, and entered Tuesday ranked last in the NHL at 71.2 percent.

“Our inability to get the puck out of the zone has hurt us quite a bit and in general, loose pucks, we don’t get enough out of the zone,” Sturm said.

“It just takes 20 seconds off the clock, but especially against that first unit, the sooner you can get those guys off the ice to tomorrow, the more it’ll help and it’s a step in the right direction last two games.”

The Sharks are going to have to find a way to remain competitive without heavy-minute defenseman Mario Ferraro, who was injured Monday and will be out for at least the short term.

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Perhaps Tuesday’s game can serve as a bit of a blueprint, as Quinn leaned on his top pair of Rutta and Henry Thrun but also trusted Nikita Okhotiuk enough to have him out there on the ice in the late going in a tie game.

Thrun and Kyle Burroughs both played over 20 minutes, Marc-Edouard Vlasic played close to 19 minutes and Okhotiuk had a combined 10 shifts in the third period and overtime.

“It was every guy elevating their game a little bit,” Quinn said. “It was a good night all around for that core.”

“It’s going to take everyone,” said Sharks goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, who finished with 29 saves. “Mario is a big part of our team but when he’s not in there, it’s someone else’s job to try and fill that void. I think they did a good job back there of being responsible and playing the right way.”