Analysis: Sharks rely on experience to turn up heat on Oilers

Analysis: Sharks rely on experience to turn up heat on Oilers

SAN JOSE – There are varying opinions as to whether momentum in a playoff series carries over from game to game. Usully, it’s not worth diving too deeply into the subject.

But after a 7-0 Sharks win in Game 4 over an Edmonton team that lacks playoff experience, it’s fair to contemplate whether the lopsided nature of the victory on Tuesday resonates in a bad way in the Oilers’ dressing room headed into Thursday’s pivotal Game 5 at Rogers Place.

The longer a series goes, the more a team's experience should be able to temper the momentum, both good and bad. The Sharks weren’t gripping their sticks too tightly ahead of Game 4, despite going exactly 120 minutes without a goal, and it showed, especially after captain Joe Pavelski – who missed a wide open net in Game 3 that could have changed the course of the game – got the Sharks the first goal with one of his patented tips just 15 seconds after the opening faceoff.

The Sharks also know that just because they won so easily on Tuesday, Game 5 could quickly get away from them if they’re not ready to compete at the same level.

“It’s one win, that’s it,” Logan Couture said. “It’s 2-2, best-of-three left. We’re going to go try and win a game in Edmonton.”

Game 4, though, was the kind of response that tends to come from a veteran team that has seen and been through it all. The situation was strikingly similar to last season’s second round when the Predators outplayed the Sharks pretty thoroughly in Game 6 before San Jose went home and dominated Game 7, 5-0, to advance to the Western Conference Final.

Although coach Pete DeBoer has downplayed the importance of the experience factor since before the series began, that could be similar to last season when he did the same in the Sharks-Kings series, rejecting the notion of how much it meant for the Sharks to exorcise those playoff demons from the past – only admitting to it after the Sharks had knocked off their biggest rival.

That's not to say the young Oilers can't rise to the challenge and quickly put their awful performance in Game 4 behind them, of course. If Connor McDavid finally breaks through and puts the team on his back, it wouldn’t be overly surprising. This is still just a hockey game, after all.

There’s a chance, though, that McDavid - who looks to be getting frustrated - and his teammates will still be thinking about everything that went wrong in Game 4. And it was, in fact, everything.

Coach Todd McLellan said after the game that he actually wanted his players to ponder it for a little while.

“I don’t want our players to necessarily forget about it tonight,” McLellan said. “I’d like them to think about it, and think about some of the things that they need to do better. But, we will park the game.”

Somewhere in their minds, though, the Oilers will be aware that if they drop Game 5 at home, their season will be on the brink in Game 6 back in San Jose. After the bloodbath on Tuesday, the last thing they want is to have to go back to the Shark Tank in an elimination game.

Is the pressure back on the Oilers now?

“Maybe. I think we’re used to it over here,” Thornton said. “I’d like to think we can go into there and be confident.” 

Joel Ward said: “Hopefully [we can] just carry that momentum for our side. For us, it’s just worry about us. Keep putting on that pressure.”

The pressure was applied by the battle-tested Sharks in Game 4, big time. How the Oilers respond to it for Game 5 could determine the series.


Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

SAN JOSE – The Sharks didn’t make any blockbuster moves last summer, content to make another run in 2016-17 with largely the same group that came within two wins of capturing the Stanley Cup.

They still acquired a notable player, though, when Mikkel Boedker was signed on July 1 to add an element that the Sharks knew they needed more of moving forward – speed. Boedker was expected to make the team faster, after the Sharks were exposed for not having enough of that against Pittsburgh in the NHL’s final round, as well as play in a top six role. 

At the time, it was hailed as a slick, under-the-radar move that wasn’t going to change the dynamic of the club but could help push it over the top.

When Boedker was a healthy scratch in games three and four of the first round against Edmonton, the evidence became clear, though, that this was a decision that fell flat on its face. 

Frankly, Boedker – who is signed for three more years with a $4 million salary cap hit – brings back visions of Sharks bust Marty Havlat. You know the skill is there, but the desire to use it on a nightly basis while showing any semblance of a battle level is lacking. 

Should the Sharks give Boedker another chance next season, or should they do everything in their power to try and move him? That’s a question that will likely be debated in the front office over the next several weeks.

On get-away day on Monday, indications were that the Sharks were planning on sticking with the 27-year-old, who finished with 26 points in the regular season (10g, 16a) and added one goal and one assist in four games in the playoffs.

“He has the things we’re looking for: his career scoring average, his speed, [penalty killing] ability,” general manager Doug Wilson said. “Did he meet the expectations that he had for himself [or] that we had for him? No. Can we get that out of him? Pete [DeBoer] believes we can.”

DeBoer has known Boedker since he played for him in 2007-08 in Kitchener (OHL). Despite scratching him in the playoffs, DeBoer said he saw “huge improvement” in Boedker throughout the course of the season after the forward spent nearly all of his NHL career in Arizona.

“There was an adjustment. He’s played 6-7 years a certain way in the NHL,” DeBoer said. “We’ve asked him to play differently here, and there was an adjustment.”

Boedker still believes that he can be a fit in San Jose.

“I think it will be and it can be,” he said. “It’s learning period, but you’ve also got to look in the mirror yourself and see what you can change and what assets you need to bring. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m ready to do that.”

The list of Sharks depth forwads that had frustrating seasons hardly begins and ends with Boedker, though.

Veteran Joel Ward’s production dipped from 43 points last season to 29 in 2016-17, although that probably isn’t too surprising considering he’s 36. Tomas Hertl is proving to be a streaky player, too, although his season was interrupted by another a knee injury.

The bigger disappointment came from players like Chris Tierney and Joonas Donskoi, who both made big impressions in the 2016 playoffs but struggled to produce consistent offense this year. Both were mentioned by name by DeBoer on Monday.

There are some promising youngsters in the pipeline like Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen, but it’s still too early to project any of them as can’t-miss scorers at the NHL level.

“I think we’ve got a large group of guys that I like, but need to step up,” DeBoer said. “Is Sorensen [like] Donskoi next year, where he takes a step back, or [does he take a] step forward? We’ve got a lot of guys that there’s a lot of potential there – Chris Tierney. 

“There’s a lot of those guys, but they need to have big summers and take a step, and show that they’re not just one season or one month players.”

Facial fractures for Couture; Thornton undergoes surgery

Facial fractures for Couture; Thornton undergoes surgery

SAN JOSE – Just in case there was any question as to the grisly nature of Logan Couture’s mouth injury, the Sharks forward shared a picture on his personal Instagram account on Monday.

If you haven’t seen it yet, proceed with caution.

The photo was taken the night of his injury on March 25 in Nashville, showing several top teeth missing in a mouth that can accurately be described as a bloody mess, after he was hit with a defected puck while standing in front of the net in a game against the Predators.

Couture revealed on Tuesday in a conference call that there was more to his injury that just damaged teeth. He also has some facial fractures, including one above his upper lip that extends to his nasal area, and another that is under the bottom row of his teeth.

The one that’s higher in his face is still painful. 

“Still struggle to eat and sleep. … It’s not a comfortable state to be in,” said Couture, who missed the final seven games of the regular season before returning for the six-game first round series loss to Edmonton.

As for the next step, Couture has yet to sit down with his dentist, although further work is on the horizon.

“There’s going to be some implants to get the teeth fixed,” he said. “Hopefully get it done in the next few weeks, and then I’ll head back to Canada.”

Couture doesn’t yet know how many teeth need to be replaced.

“All depends on how the teeth respond,” he said.

* * *

Joe Thornton had successful surgery on his left knee on Monday afternoon, NBC Sports California has learned, and according to a team statement released later on Tuesday he is expected to "make a complete recovery and be ready for the start of the 2017-18 season." 

According to a source, the damage to Thornton’s MCL was more significant than his ACL. The team declined to give any details about the surgery in its statement, including who performed it and where it was done. 

Thornton played four playoff games against Edmonton despite damaged knee ligaments, head coach Pete DeBoer revealed on Monday, when he said Thornton was dealing with a “torn MCL and ACL” after getting hurt in Vancouver on April 2.