A lower-body injury kept veteran defenseman Brad Stuart out of most of training camp, the entirety of the preseason and the Sharks' first two regular season games. But per Kevin Kurz, Stuart returns to the lineup tonight to make his regular season debut against the New York Rangers.
Stuart will replace fellow veteran blueliner Scott Hannan, who logged a combined 28:26 on the team's third pairing in wins over Vancouver and Phoenix last week. Given the struggles Hannan and Stuart experienced when paired together at the end of last season and into the playoffs, it's decidedly a good thing that the coaching staff isn't reverting to that tandem, at least not right away. On paper, Jason Demers and his vastly superior skating and puck-handling abilities should make for a much better complement to Stuart's stay-at-home presence.
Of course, it's only fair to note that Hannan has had a great start to the season, albeit just two games in. At even-strength, the Sharks have earned 54.8% of the shot attempts and outscored the opposition 3-0 with Hannan on the ice. That shot differential is actually the worst among the team's defensemen (the Sharks have had a dominant start in this department) but blows out of the water anything the 34-year-old has posted in the past. The point is that Stuart will need to fill some surprisingly sizable skates in order for the Sharks to keep cooking up their winning formula. It's possible he'll be eased into the lineup, but look for the team's shorthanded ice time leader a year ago to get plenty of minutes on the kill.