Greiss seizes his opportunity

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Greiss seizes his opportunity

SAN JOSE Even before opening night, it was easy to predict that the Sharks would have a decision to make with their goaltending in late December.

How difficult that decision would be depended solely on Thomas Greiss.

Antti Niemi was the undisputed starter and Greiss would be his backup, while Antero Niittymaki recovered from hip surgery that was to sideline him for the first three months. If Greiss faltered while Niittymaki recovered, he would probably be subjected to waivers and the American Hockey League while the club welcomed back the veteran Niittymaki.

That didnt happen. Greiss established himself as a reliable NHL backup to Niemi, never surrendering his position even when Niittymaki was declared healthy, and it was Niittymaki who was put on the trading block before being exiled to Worcester just after the All-Star break.

After practice on Friday at Sharks Ice, Greiss was asked if Niittymakis return to health was in the back of his mind while the early season progressed.

You try not to worry about it. Theres so much that can always happen, like injuries or whatever, he said.

And his response to Niittymaki being placed on waivers?

It wasnt really that big a reaction. I didnt even really worry about it. I come here every day and work, Greiss said.

Greiss could be playing down the perception that hes now firmly a part of the teams plans for the rest of this season and probably next, but he could very well be telling the truth, too. That laid back personality and friendly nature has endeared himself to his teammates, according to coach Todd McLellan.

Thats part of the reason that Greiss numbers (7-4-1, 1.98 goals-against average, .925 save percentage) are so impressive after all, a goaltenders statistics can often be a reflection of how well the team is performing in front of him.

The head coach used a football analogy (hey, it is Super Bowl week) to describe it.

Its maybe like the quarterback position, how important that offensive line is. They either play with the quarterback or they play for the quarterback. I think thats how it is with goaltending, too. You either play with the goaltender or you play for the goaltender.

Greisser has it set up on this team where guys play for him. I really believe that. Hes well liked, he works his butt off all the time, and when hes thrown in there they want to play well for him.

Its been quite the journey for the German native, drafted in the third round of the 2004 draft and who turned 26 on Jan. 29. He played four seasons in North America for San Jose and Worcester, before being transferred to the Swedish Elite League for 2010-11. He didnt like it there, and came back to the Sharks organization over the summer despite the club having two able-bodied, veteran netminders on its roster for the upcoming season.

Doug Wilson and his staff made it clear they wanted him back, though, and Greiss listened.

I think Thomas seized the opportunity when he chose to come back and sign here. He believed in what Doug and the management staff had told him when they sat down and said listen, you have an opportunity here and we want you back. Thats not an easy thing for him to do after he had been reassigned to Europe, McLellan said.

I think he was confident and he believed in what he was doing and we believed in him, and he came in and did it. It wasnt necessarily the three months of playing and that helped but I think the day he signed he was bound and determined that it was going to be his.

At the same time, the Sharks had to be a little wary to give Greiss the keys to the ship in such an important season, especially when Niemi had surgery in September, forcing Greiss to start the first three games of the regular season. Greiss had just 19 games of NHL experience under his belt at that point, with mixed results.

If there were any doubts then, though, Niittymakis assignment to Worcester is proof enough that Greiss now has the organizations complete confidence.

In fact, you could even make a case that he could challenge for the number one goaltender on a few NHL teams that are struggling in net if not right away, but in the near future. That, combined with his low salary cap hit through next season, could make him an attractive target for NHL teams as the trade deadline approaches.

Hed obviously love to be a number one at some point.

Clearly thats what I want to be, eventually. Well see what happens, he said.

For now, though, hell continue to bide his time and do his duty for a Stanley Cup contender.

McLellan said: Hes still a young NHL goaltender, not necessarily in years but in his experience here. That will take some time to grow, but he works on his game every day and gets good coaching from our goaltending staff.

Theres a chance for him to continue to grow.

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.

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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.