NHL Gameday: Sharks host Panthers; Labanc thrives on top line

NHL Gameday: Sharks host Panthers; Labanc thrives on top line

Programming note – Sharks-Panthers coverage starts today at 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 34-18-5, 73 points, 1st Pacific Division
Panthers: 24-20-10, 58 points, 5th Atlantic Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***The Sharks will play their first home game after a four-game road trip tonight against the Panthers, whom they beat in Florida on Nov. 10, 4-2. San Jose has won the last three head-to-head matchups.

Florida is five points out of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

“They’re [in] desperation mode with [27] games left,” Pete DeBoer said. “Anybody that’s packed in and fighting for those last playoff spots you’re going to see their best game here for the rest of the season.”

After going 1-8-1 in the first home game after a multiple-game road trip last season, the Sharks are 3-2 in such situations this year.

***It’s uncertain whether rookie Nikolay Goldobin will be in the lineup after the former first round pick was recalled on Wednesday morning. One line that will remain the same, though, is the top line of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Kevin Labanc.

Labanc had a pair of assists on that line after getting bumped up there to start the second period on Sunday in New Jersey, a 4-1 Sharks win. It would seem he has a chance to stick there now that Tomas Hertl has shifted to third line center.

“It’s an unbelievable opportunity,” Labanc said. “They’re great players, and I’m just fortunate enough to be on that line. I’ve just got to get the puck to them and let them do all the work.”

Thornton said: “He’s forechecking hard, he’s complimenting me and Pav real nicely. He’s been working extremely hard to fit in, and he’s done a great job.”

***Patrick Marleau will be honored in a pregame ceremony for scoring his 500th career goal on Feb. 2 in Vancouver.  He will also become just the 10th player in league history to skate in 600 consecutive games. That iron man streak began on April 9, 2009.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Joe Thornton. The veteran center brings a three-game point streak into tonight’s game (2g, 2a), including his first two goals of the season in a manned net. Thornton is now just four assists away from 1,000 in his career.

Panthers: Jaromir Jagr. The Panthers winger is celebrating his 45th birthday today, and with his 10th goal of the season on Saturday, he’s scored double-digit goals in each of his 23 seasons in the league.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Kevin Labanc – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – Mikkel Boedker
Timo Meier – Tomas Hertl – Joel Ward
Micheal Haley – Chris Tierney – Melker Karlsson

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones (starter)
Aaron Dell

Panthers
Jonathan Huberdeau – Aleksander Barkov – Jaromir Jagr
Jussi Jokinen – Vincent Trocheck – Reilly Smith
Michael Sgarbossa – Nick Bjugstad – Jonathan Marchessault
Shawn Thornton – Derek MacKenzie – Colton Sceviour

Keith Yandle – Jason Demers
Mark Pysyk – Aaron Ekblad
Michael Matheson – Alex Petrovic

Roberto Luongo
James Reimer

INJURIES

Sharks: Joonas Donskoi (upper body) and Dylan DeMelo (broken wrist) are out.

Panthers: None.

QUOTEABLE

“He was a trooper, three-year-old, standing behind the bench all game. I thought I have a three-year-old, that’s a tough feat to do. So, come on back and meet some of the boys.” – Joe Thornton, on bringing a young fan into the dressing room after Sunday’s game in New Jersey

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.

* * *

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.