With all the ups and downs the San Jose Sharks have gone through this season, it is intriguing to see how this team will finish the season. Even with all the line changes and injuries, San Jose is still one of the better teams in the Western Conference and competing nearly every night for the top spot in the Pacific division.
The Martin Havlat injury has been a major blow to both the offensive production and overall morale of this team. Also, the defense may have received a little too much preseason credit, and have slowly come back to Earth.
Where this team will stand at the end of the year is still up in the air, but we can at least have a good understanding that the Sharks will finish somewhere near the top of the Western Conference playoff picture, as per usual.
What starting will we see at the end of the season, and will James Sheppard make an appearance in them?
Here are my predictions for the Sharks' starting lines at the end of the 2011-12 NHL season.
First Line: Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski
It is hard to imagine a better set of players that the Sharks can put out there with this much skill and chemistry nearly every night. Slowly, this squad is getting more and more familiar with each other and the production can only go up from here.
Marleau is set to have a huge second half of the season and Pavelski should continue to impress on the big stage of a premiere team in the NHL. With Thornton's consistent play-making, we should see this line become one of the more deadly in the NHL heading into the playoffs.
Second Line: Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture, Martin Havlat
Havlat should return within the next two months, giving the this set of players a good month and a half to re-familiarize themselves with each other.
When Havlat went down with injury, this was a very productive line just getting into their stride and gaining a consistency with each other.
Clowe and Couture continue to be paired up with each other while Havlat is out, so the line should not take long to get back into a groove once Havlat returns come mid to late February.
Third Line: Jamie McGinn, Michal Handzus, Torrey Mitchell
There was a moment where i thought we would see James Sheppard, the offseason pick-up who skated in practice for the first time this season the other day, on this line. Even with the surprising news, his return this season is doubtful, although we could see a game or two towards the end.
With the fourth line in tact, as well as the first and second lines, this hard-working line is all but set come season's end.
Tommy Wingels has a shot to make this line if Andrew Desjardins falls off the map during the second half, but his hard work is deserving of a spot at the end of the season. Wingels has been off and on after being called up from Worcester this season. If he gains some consistency and become that player we all saw during the preseason and the first few games of the regular season, we could see him taking McGinn's spot on this line and pushing him down to the fourth line. But that sort of roster move may not be what McLellan is thinking come playoff time.
Fourth Line: Brad Winchester, Andrew Desjardins, Andrew Murray
This is another definite spot to include either James Sheppard or Tommy Wingels in, but with Sheppard's uncertainty and Wingels inconsistency, that is highly doubtful.
This fourth line has been together the entire season with consistent productivity all around, giving McLellan no reason to split them up.
All three players have +/- in the positive numbers, which is more than you can ask for any other fourth line in hockey. They do what they supposed to do and get the job done, which is why they have stayed in tact with one another throughout this season, and also why McLellan has so much faith in them as a unit.
I am sure we will see McLellan test the waters and dividing them up during the second half of the season just to see what happens, but we are sure to see them back together towards the end.