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

Couture's father: Sharks center dealing with 'ugly injury' after puck to mouth

Couture's father: Sharks center dealing with 'ugly injury' after puck to mouth

After requiring a visit to a local hospital in Nashville due to being struck in the face with a deflected puck on Saturday night against the Predators, Logan Couture was able to fly back with the team to San Jose on Sunday morning.

The severity of his injury is still unknown, although his father, Chet, said on Twitter that it was “an ugly injury sadly.”

Another source close to the situation told CSN the injury is “brutal.”

Couture, who lost several teeth, visited with Sharks medical personnel on Sunday and a further update is expected on Monday. 

Perhaps the best-case scenario is that the injury looks a lot worse than it actually is, such as when Marc-Edouard Vlasic was sidelined for one week when he took a puck to the face from the stick Philadelphia’s Shayne Gostisbehere in late December.

Losing Couture for any period of time would be a difficult blow to the Sharks, who have lost their last six in regulation, including Saturday’s 7-2 defeat to the Predators. Couture is third on the team in scoring with 52 points, and has a team-leading 11 power play goals. He entered Saturday’s game with four goals and five assists in his last 10 games, and has arguably been the team’s best player since mid-January.

"You can't replace him, so it would be really tough,” Patrick Marleau said after the game Saturday. “But if that is the case, then guys are going to have to pull up the slack. Definitely we hope he's back sooner.”

Couture was set up just outside the crease in the third period when a Brent Burns point shot late in the second period hit a stick before squarely smacking into the 27-year-old’s mouth. He quickly skated to the dressing room under his own power with just 14 seconds before the intermission.

The Sharks have seven games remaining in the regular season, hosting the Rangers on Tuesday and visiting Edmonton and Calgary later this week. They are tied in points (91) with Anaheim and Edmonton in the Pacific Division.

Three takeaways: Sharks having trouble explaining meltdown

Three takeaways: Sharks having trouble explaining meltdown

NASHVILLE – The Sharks are returning to San Jose on Sunday in a crisis. Nothing good came from Saturday’s 7-2 loss to Nashville, their sixth straight in regulation. Let’s get to the painful three takeaways…

1 – No answers

Neither Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns nor Patrick Marleau – the three players made available to the media after Saturday’s game – offered any kind of in-depth analysis of what’s going wrong. Frankly, I’m not sure anyone really knows. It’s hard to believe that this is the same club that had lost just two games in regulation in its previous 14 before the losing streak began.

“If you’re putting a consistent effort in, battling, competing – it’s tough to lose six in a row,” Pavelski said. “You look at six in a row, and it just seems daunting. Like, how do you get there? So, I think we’ve just got to take a deep breath, really kind of refocus.”

Believe it or not, coach Pete DeBoer thought Saturday’s loss was “a step in the right direction” when asked why Friday night’s 6-1 beat down in Dallas wasn’t enough of a wake-up call. How often do you hear that after a five-goal defeat?

“I liked our game tonight better than I liked [Friday’s game] regardless of the score,” DeBoer said. “I don’t just look at the score. If you want to just judge it on the score than you might not say it’s a wake-up call, but I thought we were much more competitive tonight. 

“It was a step in the right direction. Every team goes through tough parts of the season, and this is ours. We’ve got a lot of character in the room. We’ll get through it.”

2 – Couture injury would spell doom, as Hertl still MIA

Let’s face it – if Logan Couture is out for any extended period of time, this team is DOA once the playoffs begin. Couture has been the Sharks’ best player since the All-Star break, and they don’t have anyone on the current roster or in the system that could replace him. As of Sunday morning, there was still no word as to the severity of his injury after taking a puck to the mouth and going to a local Nashville hospital.

If Couture were to miss time, Tomas Hertl would likely become the team’s second line center. Lately, though, Hertl doesn’t even resemble an effective third line center. He was victimized on Nashville’s first goal, which was similar to one of the Wild goals on Tuesday, when he was just too slow and not strong enough on his skates in getting outworked for a loose puck. He is scoreless in his last 12 games.

3 – Haley shows some emotion that others lack

It’s understandable that Micheal Haley didn’t like getting hit from behind by Calle Jarnkrok in the third period. But, you can’t just make a beeline for a guy and punch him in the face. Haley will almost certainly get suspended for the play.

At least, though, Haley showed a little bit of emotion in the game, including his first period fight with Cody McLeod. Perhaps guys like Hertl, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker could take a lesson from the fiery Haley. Those three, in particular, have been virtually useless during this six-game stretch. 

If I’m DeBoer, I’d get on the phone with Doug Wilson and Roy Sommer and ask for a few guys from the Barracuda so I could – depending on the team’s health situation – scratch all three of them for Tuesday against the Rangers, or at least remove Boedker and Donskoi and put Hertl back on the wing. Drastic times call for drastic measures, do they not?