Sharks

Brent Burns, Connor McDavid getting held in check

Brent Burns, Connor McDavid getting held in check

SAN JOSE – When offenses are struggling to produce, attention naturally turns towards the superstars. Edmonton’s attack plainly relied on 100-point scorer Connor McDavid during the regular season, while the Sharks counted on Norris Trophy favorite and leading scorer Brent Burns to dent the scoreboard.

Through the first three games of the Sharks-Oilers first round series, though, neither has done a whole lot. McDavid has been held to one shorthanded goal and a secondary assist on the power play, and has just six shots, while Burns has been kept from the scoresheet completely. 

There have been just eight total goals, with Edmonton, which leads the series two games to one, getting five of them.

“It’s just [the] playoffs. That’s what happens every year, I think,” Burns said. “It’s hard to create.”

At some point, though, Burns will have to find a way to do just that if the Sharks are to have a chance at advancing. In Game 1 he was in top form, generating eight shots on goal and a whopping 18 attempts. In games two and three, though, Burns has been held to a combined five shots and 11 attempts.

The Oilers’ ability to nullify Burns in games two and three is the primary reason why the Sharks haven’t scored in 120 minutes since Melker Karlsson’s overtime winner in Game 1.

What are they doing right?

“I’m sure their coaching staff and everyone scouting, [like] we would do on McDavid, they’ve done on Brent,” partner Paul Martin said. “They know he’s got a great shot and is able to get it through. They’re playing him high and taking away that middle of the ice for those shots, whether they be tipped or to the net, and blocking shots.”

Logan Couture said: “They're doing a good job on our D-men. Obviously they know that our D-men create a lot of offense for us and they shoot the puck a lot. They're playing our D high, and it's three-on-three down low on the forwards, so the forwards have to do a better job of creating offense."

Burns didn’t express any frustration on Monday after an optional practice.

“That’s the fun part, is earning it and going through that,” he said. “This is the time you want to play. It’s fun. Every game is so tight, and one bounce – it’s working to create that bounce. That’s why it’s fun.”

While the Sharks need more offense, whether it’s from Burns or elsewhere, they’ll attempt to keep doing what they’ve been doing against McDavid. The unparalleled bursts of speed often seen from the 20-year-old haven’t been nearly as numerous as they were during the regular season, especially late when McDavid posted a 14-game point streak headed into his first career playoff run.

Martin mentioned the obvious objective of keeping McDavid in his defensive end, but when he has the puck, the Sharks are “trying to clog the middle with him there. Our D have been doing a good job of managing the puck. If we were turning the puck over…the more we give him the more chances he’s going to make something good happen.”

DeBoer was coy when asked what the Sharks have done to limit McDavid’s chances.

“I’ll tell you after the series is over, if we can keep doing it. That’s a big if,” he quipped.

It could very well be that the first team that gets more from its biggest star will end up advancing to the second round. 

If McDavid breaks out in Game 4, it could be curtains on the Sharks’ season. If Burns is able to replicate his Game 1 performance, though, and maybe get a few fortunate bounces that never came that night, the Sharks will reclaim the momentum.

Burns said: “I think both teams are playing really tight. … You’ve just got to work for those bounces and stay confident. And pray to the hockey gods, I guess.”

Five months after taking puck to face, Sharks' Logan Couture 'still pretty sore'

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Five months after taking puck to face, Sharks' Logan Couture 'still pretty sore'

Nearly five months after taking a puck to the mouth that resulted in major damage, Logan Couture is still dealing with the aftereffects of his surgically repaired mouth, which now features several false teeth.

Appearing on the NHL Network this week, Couture was asked how he’s feeling with less than one month to go before the Sharks open training camp on Sep. 14.

“There’s good days and bad days,” Couture said. “My bottom teeth are still my real teeth. They’ve tried to keep them so I don’t lose them. I don’t know if I’ll be able to, they’re still pretty sore. My top teeth are all fake now – my front six, I think. So, it’s different. It just feels different in my mouth. 

“But everything else with my face and all that is healed. I’m lucky that it’s an injury that didn’t affect my training, and hopefully won’t affect me going forward.”

Couture was injured on March 25 in Nashville. He was set up just outside the crease in the offensive zone when a Brent Burns point shot hit a stick before squarely battering the now 28-year-old’s mouth.

After missing the final seven games of the regular season, Couture returned for the Sharks’ playoff opener. He managed to play in all six games of the first round loss, posting two goals and one assist for three points, although he struggled at times and was seemingly targeted by the Oilers.

Couture is currently in his hometown of London, Ontario where he’s staging a casino event for brain research. Fellow Sharks Chris Tierney and Dylan DeMelo will take part, as will other NHL stars like the Kings’ Drew Doughty.

Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes

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Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes

It was late in the lockout-shortened 2013 season when Sharks general manager Doug Wilson really started to prepare for the future. Douglas Murray was dealt to Pittsburgh for a pair of second round selections. Ryane Clowe packed his bags for Broadway, in exchange for a second and a third round pick from the Rangers. Michal Handzus went to Chicago for a fourth rounder.

Wilson’s logic was sound, as it typically takes two-to-four years before draft picks have a chance to make an impact at the NHL level. The general manager figured that by then, players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau either wouldn’t be a part of the team anymore or would be slowing down. Restocking the cupboards was essential.

From 2013-15, the Sharks made 24 selections over the next three NHL entry drafts, including seven total picks in the top two rounds. Some players have shown promise. Others haven’t. A few aren’t in the organization anymore. That’s the nature of the business.

The way the 2017-18 opening night roster is shaping up, though, now is the time that some of these young players in the system simply have to step up. Marleau and his 27 goals last season are gone, Thornton’s numbers are down and he’s coming off of major knee surgery, Joe Pavelski is now 33 years old, and the team’s offense depth is suspect at best. There have been no notable additions in the offseason.

Frankly, this season could be viewed as a referendum on the team’s amateur scouting staff, including longtime director Tim Burke. Wilson handed Burke and his staff a wonderful opportunity to provide the organization with fresh talent with the team approaching an organizational crossroads.

What has transpired so far is a bit concerning, as already two of the team’s first round picks from that span ended up being nothing more than trade bait.

* * *

Mirco Mueller, chosen 18th overall in 2013, was a huge disappointment in San Jose. It’s been well documented that he was mishandled by the organization when he was rushed to the league in 2014-15, but even this past season, regular observers of the Barracuda had Mueller as nothing more than the AHL team’s fourth-best defenseman. He’s now in New Jersey, swapped for a pair of draft picks.

The scouting staff was so high on Mueller on draft day that Wilson traded a valuable second round pick to Detroit to move up just two places to select him. With those acquired picks, the Red Wings took Anthony Mantha 20th overall and Tyler Bertuzzi 58th overall – two forwards that have shown a whole lot more NHL potential than Mueller (especially Mantha, who has 39 points in 70 career NHL games so far).

Perhaps more concerning, though, is that the Sharks 2013 draft class as a whole is looking like a dud. Second round pick Gabryel Boudreau suffered a wrist injury and is no longer in the organization anymore, but he was trending downward even before he got hurt. None of the remaining players selected from rounds four-through-seven look to be NHL quality, either.

The next year brought Nikolay Goldobin, chosen 27th overall after the Sharks traded down in the first round, and he ended up being the key piece in the Jannik Hansen acquisition from Vancouver. Goldobin showed some flashes of offensive talent during his time in the organization, but his lack of hockey sense and on-ice work ethic helped lead to his exit. Whether Goldobin becomes an NHL regular, even with a fresh start in Vancouver, is highly uncertain.

Had the Sharks stayed at 20th overall, they could have selected Nick Schmaltz (20th overall), Robby Fabbri (21st overall), or David Pastrnak (25th overall). Instead, they moved down and took Goldobin, making it back-to-back first round failures.

* * *

Still, unlike 2013, other players from Goldobin’s draft class have shown some promise. Second rounder Julius Bergman was a steady blueliner for a good Barracuda team last season, and although he’s probably not NHL-ready yet, he could be on the right track. Late in the draft the team found Kevin Labanc in the sixth round with the 171st overall selection, and Labanc had some nice moments with the Sharks last season. His shot and his hands make him a solid prospect, although Labanc still probably has to get a bit bigger and stronger to play in the NHL full-time.

Noah Rod (second round, 53rd overall) and Rourke Chartier (fifth round, 149th overall) are also still developing, with Rod playing against men in the Swiss league the past few seasons and Chartier a valuable player for the Barracuda last year.

In 2015, the draft provided the Sharks with Timo Meier at ninth overall, as the club drafted in the top 10 for the first time since 2007. At this point, Meier is far and away the best prospect in the organization, and he’ll likely be relied upon to play a top nine (or even a top six) role for the Sharks this season.

The 2015 draft brought other decent prospects, too. Defenseman Jeremy Roy was selected 31st overall, and after suffering a serious knee injury in juniors this year, he’ll get a chance to play for the Barracuda this year. Fourth rounder Adam Helewka and fifth rounder Rudolfs Balcers have also developed nicely since draft day. It’s still a bit too early to evaluate that draft as a whole.

It should also be mentioned that while their draft day record may be suspect the past few seasons, the Sharks have brought in European free agents like Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen. Karlsson has developed into a versatile, hard-working forward; Donskoi has shown flashes of offensive brilliance despite a disappointing second year in the NHL last season; and Sorensen looks primed to make the opening night roster after his speed and tenacity shined through during the Sharks’ first round series loss to Edmonton.

The Sharks scouting staff has helped to keep the team competitive for a long time, and they’re as big a reason as any that the team has missed the playoffs just once in the past 11 seasons. But this is also a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, and now is the time that the Sharks need to see some results from players that were chosen by Burke and company.