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Without Thornton, Sharks host struggling Rangers

As a veteran with almost 20 years in the NHL, Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks is seen as an inspirational leader. That will be missing for a while.

Playing their first game without the injured Thornton, the Sharks take on the struggling New York Rangers on Thursday night.

The 38-year-old is expected to miss at least two weeks -- and possibly several more -- after suffering an MCL injury in his right knee late in regulation of a 5-4 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night.

Since being acquired from the Boston Bruins in 2005, Thornton has missed 12 regular-season games with minor injuries. In April, Thornton suffered the first major injury of his long career as he underwent surgery for damage to the MCL and ACL in his left knee.

"He's such an inspirational guy," San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said Wednesday. "What he's done is kind of inspired a lot of those other guys to step up, and now they need to step up even more."

Still, it will be difficult to replace "Jumbo Joe."

Thornton is tied for second on San Jose with 13 goals -- leaving him three shy of 400 for his career -- and 36 points. He was particularly valuable on the power play with a team-best seven goals.

"It's tough," San Jose left winger Logan Couture told the San Jose Mercury News. "Especially a guy that's worked so hard to come back from a serious injury. It's just an innocent play where guys got tangled up. You knew something was wrong when you saw his face on the ice. That guy doesn't leave a hockey game unless something's very hurt."

The Sharks (26-14-7) placed Thornton on injured reserve and recalled forward Marcus Sorenson (three goals in 15 games with the Sharks) from San Jose of the American Hockey League on Wednesday.

While the Sharks still have Couture, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns, one player the team may look at to step up is Timo Meier. The second-year winger has three goals and an assist in a career-best four-game points streak, and collected five of his 11 goals this month.

Another key may be fellow winger Melker Karlsson, who has three goals in five career games versus the Rangers. He scored in San Jose's 4-1 win on Oct. 23 in Madison Square Garden.

Burns has six assists in a five-game streak, and leads all defensemen with 27 points (six goals, 21 assists) since Dec. 7.

Martin Jones (lower-body injury) remains day-to-day for the Sharks. Aaron Dell is 5-0-2 with a 2.77 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage this month. Should Troy Grosenick be in net, it would be his first NHL action since Nov. 18, 2014.

New York (24-20-5), which is trying to avoid its seventh loss in nine games, is also in danger of going winless on a four-game road trip. The Rangers have been outscored 13-6 in the last three contests.

"We're not making it easy on ourselves. We're making everything harder," New York defenseman Ryan McDonagh said after Tuesday's 6-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

Rick Nash scored twice, but Henrik Lundqvist was pulled after allowing three goals in the first 16:21.

"I've got to be more on my toes," said Lundqvist, who has allowed eight goals on 72 shots during the road trip, and been lit up for nine goals over his last two visits to SAP Center.

Backup Ondrej Pavelec is 0-3-0 with a 4.23 GAA and .882 save percentage in January.

Nash has been one of the bright spots recently with six goals in his last five games after netting nine through the first 44 games. He is four points short of 800 for his career.

Linemate Pavel Buchnevich also benefitted from playing with Nash, with two goals and three assists over the last five contests.

Two other Rangers are coming up on career milestones. Center David Desharnais needs one game to reach 500, while Mats Zuccarello is three points away from 300.

Zuccarello leads New York in assists (27) and points (35).

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