When any hockey team suffers injuries to critical players, struggles are bound to happen. The San Jose Sharks are definitely no exception.

Joining star center Joe Thornton on the injured list for Wednesday's game in Dallas was San Jose's third best defenseman, Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

After an unfortunate collision against Colorado on Sunday, it appears Vlasic has re-injured the same area that caused him to miss 17 games from late January to early March.

With these two out of the lineup, a drop off in the team's performance is hard to avoid when you consider that Vlasic and Thornton combine for over 40 minutes of ice time per game.

Against the Stars on Wednesday, the Sharks appeared flat and uninterested throughout the game, eventually losing by a 5-1 final.

Now at this stage in the season, a single loss shouldn't be over examined.

However, when injuries crop up this late in the year, realizing who is the best available replacement is critical.

In Vlasic's case, the best available replacement was rookie defenseman Jason Demers.

But in the case of Thornton's injury, the extra playing time has been given to the combination of Jamie McGinn and Brad Staubitz.

Unfortunately, neither player is the best choice available to eat up minutes. Current Worcester Shark Frazer McLaren is a better fourth line winger than either of the aforementioned skaters.

McGinn, who has impressed at various times throughout the season is simply not a third/fourth line player.

At 6'0" 180 pounds, "Ginner" as some fans call him is only an inch taller and 12 pounds stronger than myself, an 18-year-old college student who rarely, if ever, hits the gym.

With eight goals and two assists in 53 games, it is evident that McGinn has some offensive potential but he is also a minus-5 this season and hasn't been consistent enough to warrant a full time spot.

Similarly, for an "enforcer" Brad Staubitz is rather small at just 6'1". Granted, the Edmonton native is a rock solid 215 pounds, but he rarely has a size advantage against fellow tough guys.

Plus the 25-year-old hasn't been able to refrain from taking incredibly unnecessary penalties.

Too often Staubitz gets caught for late hits resulting in numerous interference penalties. Offensively, Staubitz has contributed six points in 46 games this season but McLaren has six points in half that amount.

At 6' 4", 225 pounds, the 22 year-old rookie has been a steady force when called upon this season. As a plus-six at the NHL level, McLaren rates higher in plus/minus than McGinn, Staubitz, Jed Ortmeyer and Scott Nichol.

And before being sent down in early January, McLaren had registered assists in three straight games, the last of which came on New Year's Eve.

But since then McLaren hasn't been called back up.

Why you ask?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Especially with the trade of Jody Shelley, one would have expected McLaren to be given another shot.

The rookie has natural size to play the role of enforcer but has the necessary skill to be an incredibly productive and disciplined fourth line player.

The added beef McLaren brings to the table would be a nice compliment to the veteran presence and speed of both Nichol and Ortmeyer.

With Logan Couture adding extra offense to the top three lines, it is conceivable that Nichol and Ortmeyer (who have seen mostly time on the third line) could drop to the fourth line when Thornton returns to the lineup.

If put together, the trio of Mclaren-Nichol-Ortmeyer has the potential to play much more effectively than the recent fourth line combinations thrown together by Todd McLellan.

With only five games remaining before the playoffs start, the Sharks are running out of time to add size to their fourth line.

By calling McLaren up for the last few games, the Sharks could potentially add a new element to their playoff lineup.