Sharks

Hot-handed Pavelski pushes Sharks to rare win over Sabres

Hot-handed Pavelski pushes Sharks to rare win over Sabres

SAN JOSE – One of the biggest differences in the Sharks’ play under the former coaching staff as compared to the current one, now in its second season, is their ability to routinely get up for any opponent no matter where that opponent may be in the standings. 

Entering Tuesday night San Jose had an impressive record of 24-4-6 mark against teams not in the playoff picture, after playing down to the level of the competition was a real problem under former coach Todd McLellan.

Of course, there was a leadership change in the dressing room, too. Joe Pavelski took over as the captain in a move that might have been just as vital to the Sharks’ recent success as the hiring of Pete DeBoer.

Determined to get past a rebuilding Sabres team that still had the Sharks’ number despite the regime change, it was Pavelski who led the way with a pair of goals in a 4-1 victory. Yes, the Sharks can even beat the Sabres now, too, after getting just one overtime win against them in the previous 11 meetings before Tuesday.

The surging captain, who has seven goals in his last five games, drove the bus.

While the time off during the bye week at the end of February likely helped Pavelski, “in the short time I've known him, he cranks it up this time of year,” DeBoer said. “Those type of guys see the finish line here, and the playoffs, and they start to get really excited. I think you're seeing a little bit of both of those things."

Pavelski added, “the bye week was great,” but he’s “definitely [getting] some confidence. Shooting the puck, finding it in good spots recently.”

Dylan DeMelo got the primary assist on Pavelski’s second goal, when his slap shot bounced off of Josh Gorges’ rear end to the Sharks captain’s tape.

"He's got the hot hand. He does it every night, though,” DeMelo said. “If it's not scoring goals, he's doing something. He works hard all the time in practice. They maybe weren't going in as much as he'd like to early on, but he stays with it, and he's got such great talent around the net. We knew he'd break through, and he's playing huge for us right now."

Beyond Pavelski’s performance was that the Sharks kept their foot on the gas against the Sabres for the duration of the evening. Even after they managed 20 shots on goal in the first period without beating Robin Lehner, including getting a goal waved off, they kept coming in the second and third periods. 

They are the types of efforts have become a staple under the DeBoer/Pavelski partnership – they’ll put forth an honest game on a nearly nightly basis. 

Of course, there was motivation to beat the Sabres, too, considering they are a club that has had the Sharks number of the years, including this one. They erased a three-goal third period deficit to stun San Jose on Feb. 7 in upstate New York, 5-4 in overtime.

It helped that the Sharks got a few bounces. On the game-winning goal that made it 2-1, Micheal Haley got a slight piece of a Cody Franson pass to Jack Eichel, and the sophomore sensation booted it into his own goal at 19:10 of the second period. Logan Couture added third period insurance when he pushed a puck off of Lehner’s stick after the goalie’s ill-advised poke-check attempt, making it 4-1.

“That’s one of those ones, you can’t plan that. It was lucky,” Haley said of his second goal of the season, and first game-winner of his career. “I thought we played pretty well, and luckily we got some bounces.”

Regardless of the hockey gods looking favorably on the Sharks, they deserved to win this one based on their effort.

“We didn't win because of a bounce. We won because we earned that win, and we were the better team all night right from the drop of the puck,” DeBoer said. “I think we knew the history, and we wanted to put an end to it."

Especially Pavelski.

“Buffalo's always found a way to kind of get one on us, for the most part,” Pavelski said. “It's encouraging to see guys really stay with it.”

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.

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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.