Unless something strange happened between the Florida Panthers practice on Monday afternoon and the drop of the puck on Tuesday night, Joe Thornton will indeed make his return to San Jose against the Sharks.
On Monday, coach Andrew Brunette had Thornton working on the left side of Florida’s top line with Sasha Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe.
There was little doubt Thornton would come off the IR in time to face the Sharks — and one had to figure he will be in the starting lineup as he plays in his first game against his former team since leaving as a free agent following the 2019-20 season.
“It sounds like and looks like he is ready to go,” Brunette said. “He has been a Swiss Army knife, we have moved him around all over the place and he hasn’t had too many opportunities to play with the top guys. No better place to see if he can have some fun (Tuesday).”
Thornton wears No. 19 for the Panthers as he did for all those seasons with the Sharks — and he did not even have to ask for it.
Mason Marchment, who is making his own homecoming tonight, made sure Thornton knew he was going to give up the number he wore with Florida in 2021 once ‘Jumbo Joe’ signed with the Panthers.
Thornton was one of Marchment’s favorite players with the Sharks as he hung out with the team as a kid under father Bryan’s watch and now the two are not only teammates but flying buddies on the Florida charters.
“I got to meet Jumbo and he was one of my favorite players growing up,” Marchment, who switched to No. 17, said Monday. “As soon as he came here, I called him and told him ‘hey, 19 is his.’ He deserves it. He is a legend for a reason and he deserves it.”
Thornton has been on IR since Florida returned from the extended All-Star break and has only played in 24 games thus far.
When Thornton signed with the Panthers, it was a boost to the team that knew he was chasing his first Stanley Cup in a Hall of Fame career — and wanted to do it with this group.
Thornton made it clear to the Panthers that he did not have to play in each and every game.
In fact, he seems completely cool with his time being managed the way it has.
“There is so much respect for him by the players in our room and he has earned that,” Brunette said. “The joy that he has is infectious and you can see guys grow around him. He has been such a nice addition to our group. …
“When you can scratch a Joe Thornton, you can scratch anyone. He has taken it upon himself to rely that the team is bigger than the individual and he comes to work every day. To see how much fun he has playing the game every day — maybe not getting the minutes he is used to — is pretty unique.”
That has made life easy on a rookie head coach, one who did not enjoy playing against Thornton during his playing days.
“He was a pain in the butt,” Brunette said with a laugh. “Literally.”
— Sergei Bobrovsky took an errant puck shot into the Florida bench off the face in the first period of the Panthers’ eventual 3-2 shootout loss to the Kings on Sunday night but was at practice on Monday and will start tonight against the Sharks.
Former Florida goalie James Reimer has missed the past few games for San Jose but is expected to start against the Panthers for the second time this season.
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT SAN JOSE SHARKS
- When: Tuesday, 10: 30 p.m.
- Where: SAP Center, San Jose
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
- Streaming Only: Hulu, ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM, SiriusXM
- Draft Kings odds — Florida favored: Money Line (-230); Puck line (-1.5, +105); Over/Under 6.5 (-110/-110)
- Last season: Did not play
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 18-13-1, 7 ties
- Season Series — Florida leads 1-0: @Florida 5, San Jose 4 (OT), Jan. 29
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
19 Joe Thornton // 16 Sasha Barkov // 23 Carter Verhaeghe
11 Jonathan Huberdeau // 9 Sam Bennett // 10 Anthony Duclair
17 Mason Marchment // 27 Eetu Luostarinen // 13 Sam Reinhart
77 Frank Vatrano // 55 Noel Acciari // 70 Patric Hornqvist
52 MacKenzie Weegar // 5 Aaron Ekblad
42 Gus Forsling // 7 Radko Gudas
40 Petteri Lindbohm // 62 Brandon Montour
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
30 Spencer Knight
Scratched: Lucas Carlsson, Maxim Mamin
Injured: Markus Nutivaara (LTIR), Ryan Lomberg (IR), Jonas Johansson (IR), Anton Lundell (LBI)
PROJECTED SAN JOSE SHARKS LINEUP
28 Timo Meier // 39 Logan Couture // 76 Jonathan Dahlen
94 Alexander Barabanov // 48 Tomas Hertl // 92 Rudolph Balcers
11 Andrew Cogliano // 13 Nick Bonino // 83 Matthew Nieto
42 Jonah Gadjovich // 54 Scott Reedy // 73 Noah Gregor
21 Jacob Middleton // 88 Brent Burns
24 Jaycob Megna // 65 Erik Karlsson
44 Marc-Edouard Vlasic // 53 Nicolas Meloche
47 James Reimer
33 Adin Hill
San Jose Sharks lineups courtesy DailyFaceoff.com