PHILADELPHIA -- As expected, the Sharks will have Logan Couture and Raffi Torres back in the lineup Thursday night against the Phildelphia Flyers when they begin their stretch drive toward the NHL playoffs.
But Coach Todd McLellan is waiting at least another game to use their return to create the lines he thinks ultimately should give the Sharks their best shot at playoff success.
McLellan had been pointing out that the return of Couture would allow him to move Joe Pavelski back into a third-line role, giving San Jose added depth and scoring balance. But Pavelski will be skating alongside Joe Thornton and Brent Burns against Philadelphia.
"We talked about the fact that Joe Pavelski is one of the leading scorers in the NHL and he's one of the few consistent scorers we've had over the last little bit, give or take the last four or five games," McLellan said. "They were a line that really clicked for us. We have 23 games — a month and a half — to move people around, and we'll start this way. Who knows where we'll end up."
McLellan has Couture centering a second line with Patrick Marleau and Marty Havlat, while Torres will play at left wing alongside Andrew Desjardins and either Tyler Kennedy or Mike Brown. The other line will consist of Matt Nieto, Adam Burish and Tommy Wingels.
Backup Alex Stalock is getting the start against the Flyers. McLellan said that he will give Antti Niemi one more day to acclimate after returning from the Sochi Olympics, with Niemi scheduled to be in goal Friday night when the Sharks face the Buffalo Sabres.
McLellan again cautioned that while the team welcomes having both Couture and Torres in the lineup, it doesn't mean the task ahead automatically gets easier.
"It may even get tougher," he said, "trying to find a sense of unity on lines, reestablishing the work ethic, finding a sense of timing for those two players."
Couture said that he was excited to get back, the break has felt extra long because of the Olympic break and that it's usually tough getting his timing down in the first game back from an injury.
Still, he added, "I'm hoping that I can jump right in and everything will go well. We'll see."
Couture, who has missed the last 16 games, was San Jose's fourth leading scorer with 35 points when he underwent hand surgery. He occupies that same position when he returns.
Torres will be playing his first game this season after injuring his knee in an exhibition game.