Logan Couture won't be rushed back into the lineup. Sharks coach Todd McLellan made that perfectly clear this week.
But with just five goals in the past five games and three straight losses, the Sharks certainly could use a certain jolt with four games left before the Olympic break begins for the team on Feb. 8.
McLellan said before Thursday's 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames that Couture is working toward returning from his hand injury in the next four games, which are all at home and starts with Saturday's contest against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The team had the day off Friday, but did make one transaction by placing forward John McCarthy on waivers.
Couture, who was expected to need three to four weeks of recovery time after he had surgery Jan. 8, took part in a lengthy skate in the hours before Wednesday's 3-0 loss to Edmonton.
"If he can do it, we'll be really excited and we'll welcome him back with open arms," McLellan said of Couture. "But I can tell you we will not put him in a situation where there's any risk at all of him reinjuring it or, putting him in a situation where another body part gets injured because he's not completely ready to play."
Immediately after Couture left the lineup, the Sharks held up about as well as anyone could have expected, with seven wins in nine games. Joe Pavelski was on fire, and less experienced players were growing into expanded roles. The goaltending duo of Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock, along with the overall defensive effort, was solid when the offense wasn't clicking.
A six-game win streak, including three straight on the East Coast, made people forget whom exactly the Sharks were missing.
Pavelski has cooled off after his torrid pace of 10 points in five games -- all Sharks wins -- and the goaltending has come back to earth after several noteworthy performances.
Of the eight goals the Sharks have scored in the last six games, six have come from Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Tommy Wingels and Eriah Hayes have the others.
McLellan has been generally happy with the effort of players such as Bracken Kearns and Hayes. But it's hard to expect those players to replace the offensive skill that Couture and Tomas Hertl were providing when they were healthy.
The lack of scoring from some other normally reliable sources has been a greater cause for concern.
In the last five games, Wingels has two assists and forwards Brent Burns and Matt Nieto and defensemen Jason Demers, Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic have been held scoreless. Marty Havlat just returned to the lineup Wednesday after a five-plus week absence, and Tyler Kennedy missed the Calgary game with a lower-body injury.
"We expect a lot from individuals on our team, and we're not just talking the Marleaus, the Thorntons and the Pavelskis as far as offense goes. There has to be some other players that step up and contribute," McLellan said before Thursday's game. "It's time for them. They've been given every opportunity, whether it's power play or moving up a line. It's time for a full team contribution."
Generating scoring chances wasn't a problem for San Jose against Edmonton or Calgary, but capitalizing on those chances was.
"We just need to get back to finishing. We haven't finished particularly well the last three games, and it's definitely showing on the scoreboard," Thornton said after Thursday's loss. "You just have to concentrate in that last half-second to see where you're going to shoot and put it in."
For more on the Sharks, see the Working the Corners blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/sharks.
Chicago (33-10-13) at Sharks (34-15-6), 7:30 p.m. CSNCA