With Hertl out again, Sharks wary of loading up top line


SAN JOSE — First thing first: Thomas Hertl (lower body) is out for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, his second consecutive missed game.

Now, for the ramifications.

What will San Jose do in his absence? Does Melker Karlsson resume starting duties alongside Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski? Or, will head coach Peter DeBoer stick Logan Couture there, like he did in crunch time of Game 3?

“It helped us the other night, sure,” DeBoer said of loading up his No. 1 unit. “It would be similar to them moving Crosby, Malkin and Kessel together. You have three great players playing together.

“But in order to do that, that hurts you in other parts of the lineup. You have to be comfortable you can survive doing that with the other parts.”

Couture had 8:36 TOI with Thornton in Game 3, and 9:17 with Pavelski. The result? Terrific possession metrics — 75 CF percentage with Thornton, 67 percent with Pavelski — and some of the most sustained pressure San Jose’s had on Pittsburgh in this series.

Thornton finished with a pair of assists, his first points of the series, and all three finished with more than 25 minutes of total ice time. As such, it has to be tempting for DeBoer to go back to the trio for tonight’s Game 4 — but he was cautious about it on Monday morning, sounding wary of the potential domino effect.

“We got away with it the other night. We shortened the bench,” DeBoer said. “We had some guys, I thought, give us some real supreme efforts underneath that group.

“But I don’t know if that’s something that we can go to all the time.”

As such, in-game adjustments will be something to watch tonight. The Sharks had a highly optional skate — only the Black Aces participated, along with James Reimer — so there were no clues as to how DeBoer would run his lines.

Whatever the case, DeBoer has no worries about Thornton and Pavelski struggling to find chemistry with whatever linemate they get.

They’re not going to look at you like, ‘what are we doing here?’ They’re comfortable,” DeBoer explained. “They feel that replacement, there’s not going to be a significant drop-off.