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Sharks vs. Oilers: Previewing the forward matchup

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It all depends on who’s healthy

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

This series should come down to the top end skill of the Oilers vs. the depth of the Sharks. I say should because Logan Couture and Joe Thornton remain very much questionable for the first-round series against the Edmonton Oilers that’s set to begin on Wednesday.

Yes, both players skated on Monday but even if they play in game one it’s anyone’s guess as to how effective either will be. So when evaluating the matchup it’s important to consider what version of Thornton and Couture San Jose will get. My hunch? Not one that’s close to 100 percent.

That’s not great news for San Jose as Edmonton’s forward group already held at least a slight advantage on the top end before Thornton and Couture hit the shelf. Connor McDavid and company skated circles around the Sharks’ top line, no matter who skated with Thornton and Joe Pavelski, and that won’t improve with Jumbo skating at half speed.

From dailyfaceoff.com, here are the Oilers’ projected lines for the upcoming series:

The good news for the Sharks? The bottom six of the Oilers opens itself up for exploitation, even if Pete DeBoer decides to play guys like Marcus Sorensen and Micheal Haley. The bad news? Since Edmonton gets last change in four games, Todd McLellan will get some opportunity to put McDavid on the ice against the aforementioned.

Here’s the real problem: Even with Tomas Hertl’s line emerging as something of a shutdown unit against the McDavid line, it won’t be enough for a couple of reasons. First, the Sharks don’t get last change while at Rogers Place. Second, even if Couture and Thornton play they likely won’t be at a speed that allows them to keep up with players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

As such, San Jose will likely be badly overmatched in the forward department when it comes to the top six. Patrick Marleau can’t play center anymore (and hopefully he won’t be asked to do so anymore) but if he does have to do so, expect to see more red on charts like the one below.

You get the idea. San Jose is not going to win the forward matchup in this series. If completely healthy and playing guys like Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier? I might sing a different tune. Instead, the Sharks will be overmatched by McDavid, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins while relying on their superior defense and praying Martin Jones has something left in the tank.

It’s not hopeless, but San Jose is in a tough position because of injury. That’s the bad news. Now let’s hope Marcus has some good news to deliver when he gives us his defensive preview.