SAN JOSE — The Sharks will have veteran defenseman Brad Stuart in the lineup for the first time this season when they face the New York Rangers tonight.
"Obviously it's going to be a bit of an adjustment for me going from just practicing to having to play in a game," said Stuart, who has been dealing with an off-season lower body injury. "Try to use my experience and try to get up to speed as quick as I can."
Stuart, 33, will be paired with Jason Demers. That means Scott Hannan sits this one out. That decision, coach Todd McLellan said, was a tough one.
"We've had two games to really evaluate our team and we've played fairly well in both. There haven't been glaring mistakes from our back end so it's not easy to find an individual to take out of the lineup," McLellan said. "But more important was getting Stuey going. We can't go on without having him in."
Stuart said he wanted to be sure his skating was up to speed before getting back in action.
"I was just making sure my legs were going and I was as close to game shape as you can be," he said. "That doesn't happen overnight. I had to work on that. Once I got to a point where the coaching staff was comfortable and I felt good, then the decision could be made."
Stuart helps the Sharks just by being on the ice, McLellan said.
"Our players like to play when he's involved in the game. It's as simple as that," the coach said. "He's physical, a very good penalty killer, understands how we want to play and has the ability to play against other teams' top players."
The Rangers are coming in on the second half of back-to-back games after beating the Los Angeles Kings 3-1 on Monday night. The Sharks hope to get an early jump on New York in an effort to wear them down, McLellan said, but that won't be easy.
"They're an aggressive team all over the ice," the coach said. "They're not going to give you much space going through the neutral zone and the d-zone."
The game is the first of 16 visits by Eastern Conference opponents under the NHL's new scheduling format.