Best hockey of the year?


Best hockey of the year?

SAN JOSE Theyve won four in a row, gained points in 11 of their last 12 games (8-1-3), and taken control of the Pacific Division despite playing fewer games than any of their rivals.

Are the San Jose Sharks playing their best hockey of the year, Joe Thornton?

Yeah, we feel good and we have confidence, said the captain. Our team game is really good, were getting some spectacular saves from Antti Niemi and Thomas Greiss when he comes in. The team has confidence now and were feeling really good about ourselves.

Several times in November and December, head coach Todd McLellan cited the wins during the teams successful 5-1 road trip at the end of October as the Sharks' best play. During that stretch, San Jose beat New Jersey, Boston, Nashville, Detroit and the New York Islanders to right the proverbial ship after an inconsistent start.

McLellan was asked today if the Sharks are playing just as well now as they were then.

I think weve pushed our way back to that level, he said. The thing that I like about our team right now, is the understanding of how the games are evolving or presenting themselves. We talk about the number three a lot, and they are understanding that and buying in, and playing with more details to their game.

We were doing that on that trip in October as well, against some very good teams. Were pushing the envelope to that point again.

Thats not to say things are perfect.

Special teams play is still wildly inconsistent. The Sharks' penalty kill sits in 28th overall in the NHL (75.9 percent) while the power play is 16th (17.6 percent). In the last 19 games, the Sharks are just 8-for-64 with a man advantage (12.5 percent).

McLellan sees both of those units improving, though. The power play has scored a goal in three of the last five games, while the PK has allowed just four goals in the last nine games (23-for-27, 85.1 percent).

The penalty kill has been pretty good. It hasnt been excellent, but its been better than it was, McLellan said. Its not four people out of position, its just one guy that makes an error.

The power play still has some work to do, but it has produced enough for us to be gaining points on most night.

Thornton correctly pointed out that every team has areas in which would like to improve upon.

Every team has their things theyd like to get better at. Some teams just want to get wins, and were just kind of nitpicking, he said. It will get better. Its just a matter of time, I think.

The Sharks will play nine games in 15 days starting on Tuesday in Minnesota, leading up to the NHL All-Star break.

We had our little tough skid there, but it seems like the New Year has been really kind to us, Thornton said. We took care of our home games and played well going to Vancouver on that road trip, too. Were feeling good and confident, and are ready to play some games.

Odds and ends: Colin White returned to practice on Monday from his lower body injury, and will accompany the team on its four-game road trip to Minnesota, Winnipeg, Columbus and Chicago. He and Jim Vandermeer remain on injured reserve. Brent Burns will play his first game in Minnesota on Tuesday night since getting traded to the Sharks from the Wild this summer. If the Florida Panthers beat the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan will serve as a coach at the 2012 NHL All-Star game in Ottawa.

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.