Sharks

NHL Gameday: Sharks' Dell faces biggest challenge this year

NHL Gameday: Sharks' Dell faces biggest challenge this year

Programming note: Sharks-Blues coverage starts tonight at 7:00 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California.

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 42-20-7, 91 points, 1st Pacific Division
Blues: 36-28-5, 77 points, 4th Central Division (WC2)

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***After losing the first two games of the season series, the Sharks will get one more crack at the Blues on Thursday at SAP Center. The Blues beat the Sharks on Nov. 17 at St. Louis, 3-2, and blanked them at SAP Center on Jan. 14, 4-0.

San Jose is 3-1 on its six-game homestand, and 7-2-0 in its last nine overall. Aaron Dell will make his fourth start in the last eight games, in what will be the first-year goalie's biggest challenge so far. The Blues are desperate for points, as they try and hold on to the second wild card spot.

“It’s good to play against one of the higher teams, one of the teams fighting for a playoff spot,” said Dell, who has allowed two or fewer goals in 10 of his 13 starts. “I think that shows some confidence in me from the coaching staff.”

Pete DeBoer expects Carter Hutton to go for the Blues, who will be playing in their second of a back-to-back. Hutton made 23 saves in blanking the Sharks in January, and is a career 3-0-1 with a 0.98 goals-against average and .971 save percentage against San Jose.

***St. Louis is at the midway point of a five-game road trip, beating the Kings on Monday, 3-1, but losing to the Ducks last night, 2-1. They are 8-2 in the second half of back-to-backs this season, including six straight wins.

St. Louis is 5-3-0 in its last eight games since trading Kevin Shattenkirk, allowing just 10 total goals. Is it possible the team is coming together after losing such a key piece?

“You see that around the league a lot of times, they move somebody out and the group rallies around that to show that we’re bigger than one piece,” DeBoer said. “I think you’re probably seeing some of that there. I watched them last night in Anaheim, even though they lost they were right in that game and looked really good and they’re playing very well right now.”

The Blues are 12-7-0 since firing Ken Hitchcock and promoting Mike Yeo on Feb. 1.

DeBoer said: “There been some minor changes to their systems from what they were doing under Hitch. Nothing major, but definitely some different wrinkles than they had before.”

***The Sharks could potentially move into a first place tie for the Western Conference’s top seed tonight. Minnesota (92 points) is in Carolina, while Chicago (93 points) is in Ottawa.

“We want to [be] winning every game now because we know how important [it is] starting at home during the playoffs. During the Nashville series it was really important we started at home,” Tomas Hertl said.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Joe Pavelski. The Sharks captain in among the hottest players in hockey. Fresh off being named the NHL’s First Star of the Week last week, Pavelski posted his second straight two-goal game on Tuesday against Buffalo. He’s taken over the team lead in goals from Brent Burns with 28, thanks to seven goals in his last five games, and is on the cusp of his fifth career 30-goal campaign.

Blues: Alex Pietrangelo. The defenseman has become even more important to the Blues’ success since Kevin Shattenkirk was dealt, and has six assists and a plus-one rating in eight games since then. The 27-year-old is 10th in the NHL with 25:08 of ice time per game, but he’s skating 27:23 per game since the trade.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Jannik Hansen – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – Joel Ward
Joonas Donskoi – Tomas Hertl – Mikkel Boedker
Micheal Haley – Chris Tierney – Marcus Sorensen

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – Dylan DeMelo

Aaron Dell (starter)
Martin Jones

Blues
Jaden Schwartz – Paul Stastny – Vladimir Tarasenko
Alex Steen – Patrik Berglund – David Perron
Nail Yakupov – Ivan Barbashev – Magnus Paajarvi
Scottie Upshall – Kyle Brodziak – Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester – Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson – Colton Parayko
Carl Gunnarsson – Robert Bortuzzo

Carter Hutton (likely starter)
Jake Allen

INJURIES

Sharks: David Schlemko (right knee) and Melker Karlsson (lower body) are out.

Blues: Robby Fabbri (left knee), Dmitrij Jaskin (upper body) and Jori Lehtera (upper body) are out.

QUOTEABLE

“St. Louis needs the points. They’re coming after a loss, 2-1 against Anaheim. They need every game. Pretty skilled team. We need to be ready for [Vladimir] Tarasenko, [Jaden] Schwartz, and all these guys.” – Tomas Hertl

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

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AP

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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AP

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.