The Sharks begin a grueling stretch of their schedule in earnest in Pittsburgh against the reigning Stanley Cup champion Penguins on Tuesday.

Over the next 26 days, San Jose will play:

15 games
12 games against teams within four points of the playoffs (as of Tuesday)
10 road games
Three back-to-backs
One game with more than a day of rest

This would be a difficult proposition with Joe Thornton in the lineup, as the Sharks are just 14-8-9 in games with less than two days rest. That's good for a .452 winning percentage, all with the team's top center in the lineup.

Of course, they will be without Thornton for a while, as the 38-year-old has no timetable to return after undergoing arthroscopic surgery in his right knee.

26 days is not an arbitrary designation either, as this portion of the Sharks' schedule concludes a day before the NHL's trade deadline (Monday, Feb. 26). San Jose general manager Doug Wilson told reporters that the team's trade deadline approach would "probably not" change in light of Thornton's injury.

Their standings position by then, however, just might. The Sharks are second in the Pacific Division right now, a point ahead of the Calgary Flames with a game in hand on the Flames, Los Angeles Kings, and Anaheim Ducks.

By the end of the deadline, San Jose will only have a game in hand on Anaheim. If the Sharks struggle in Thornton's absence, it's not difficult to envision them falling out of playoff position.