Couture playing through pain, giving Sharks emotional lift

Couture playing through pain, giving Sharks emotional lift

EDMONTON – There are always doctors and dentists on duty at NHL games. These days, they are likely paying a little more attention to one player than any other.

Logan Couture revealed after Tuesday’s 7-0 Sharks in in Game 4 that after getting hit up high by Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, he had to get a little procedure done between periods.

“They just had to put some numbing into my face,” he said. “Got hit in teeth again. The dentist put some numbing in, and felt good the rest of the game.”
 
Couture ditched the full cage that he was wearing prior to Game 3, saying that if he were to take another puck to the mouth like he did on March 25 in Nashville, he’d probably be the “unluckiest guy in the world.”

While that may be true, the exposed lower half of his face is still susceptible to errant sticks, elbows or fists, as Game 4 showed. The Oilers seem to be targeting Couture, too, including a high hit from Eric Gryba in Game 1 and another by Zack Kassian in Game 2.

Still, Couture motors on, and in Game 4 he was arguably the Sharks’ best player as he posted his first playoff points – a pair of goals – in San Jose’s win. All the while, the hardware in his mouth is visible, as he has what is called an arch bar keeping his bottom teeth from falling out and some plastic bonding keeping the remaining top ones in place.

Every NHL player that’s fortunate enough to still be playing in the postseason is dealing with bumps and bruises, but Couture’s willingness to play through the kind of injury that he suffered – as well as the dental work that’s in his future, as at least half a dozen of his teeth will get replaced – seems especially fearless, even by NHL player standards.

His teammates have noticed.

“It definitely gives you an extra jolt on the ice, seeing him [and Joe Thornton], guys battling through injuries, guys coming back from painful situations and giving 100 percent out on the ice and just giving it all – it’s really inspiring,” Chris Tierney said. “It gives a lot of jump to us, and gives the team a lot of energy.”

Joel Ward said: “For him to come back like that, obviously he’s a warrior. For him not to just be there but contribute as much as he has, key minutes – he’s a talented dude. The guys love him, just excited for him to be back. He definitely gives us a big lift.”

It’s a positive sign for the Sharks, too, that Couture seems to be improving with each game. Had the Sharks managed to beat the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final last June, Couture likely would have been the Conn Smythe Award winner for playoff MVP, posting a league-leading 30 points in 24 games. That’s the Couture they need on the ice if they’re going to make a run.

For now, Couture can continue giving the Sharks an emotional boost as he continues to improve physically.

Pete DeBoer said: “When you see your best players with that type of commitment level – refusing to use injuries as an excuse, the behind the scenes stuff and what they’re going through getting prepared to play and help us – obviously, that’s motivating.”

Sharks' Vlasic joins Canada for World Championships

Sharks' Vlasic joins Canada for World Championships

Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic will compete in the upcoming IIHF World Championships for Team Canada, it was announced on Friday.

The tournament runs from May 5-21 in Paris, France and Cologne, Germany. 

Vlasic, 30, a native of Montreal, has played in the tournament twice before in 2009 and 2012. He also represented Canada in the 2014 Olympic Games, helping it to a gold medal, and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, which Canada also captured.

In 75 games with the Sharks this season, Vlasic posted 28 points (6g, 22a) and a +4 rating. He was second on the team in shorthanded time on ice (2:04 per game) and blocked shots (146).

A pending restricted free agent in 2018, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson called getting Vlasic signed to a long-term deal an offseason priority for the club. The two sides can begin negotiations on July 1.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” Wilson said. “[He] is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

The Sharks lost in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs to Edmonton, although Vlasic and partner Justin Braun helped to keep Connor McDavid in check at even strength. The league's leading scorer had just one even strength point in the six-game series, an empty net goal with less than one second left in Game 6.

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.”