Niemi falters as Sharks lose in overtime


Niemi falters as Sharks lose in overtime

TAMPA They say its better to give than it is to receive, but dont tell that to the San Jose Sharks, who received Lightning forward Dominic Moore in a pregame trade before giving away two points to struggling Tampa Bay in a 6-5 defeat on Thursday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Careless plays with the puck, particularly in the third period, and a bad night for goaltender Antti Niemi were the biggest culprits in this one.

NEWS: Sharks get forward Moore from Tampa Bay

Leading 4-3 after the second period, a pair of preventable goals allowed the Lightning to take a 5-4 lead in the third.

After a defensive zone faceoff loss, the Sharks somehow lost track of Steven Stamkos in the slot and the leagues leading goal-scorer sent a laser past Niemi at 2:44. It was Stamkos second of the night and 39th this season.

A bad sequence of events for Justin Braun gave the Lightning the lead back. The defenseman tried sending the puck up the ice from his defensive zone, but it was intercepted leading to a rush back the other way. St. Louis found himself with the puck in the corner, and swept it in off of Braun at 8:01.

It went off my shaft, took a bad bounce, and ends up in the net, Braun said. It happens. I probably shouldnt be that close to the blue paint, but youve got to learn from it.

Tommy Wingels tied it on a two-on-one rush with just over five minutes to go in regulation, but St. Louis tapped in a backhanded pass from a driving Victor Hedman to give the Sharks their second loss in three games on their season-long nine-game road trip (1-1-1).

That as poor as weve played around our net, a visibly displeased Todd McLellan said afterward. Our net play was just atrocious, starting with the goaltender, and then the defensemen and the forwards. It was very, very poor. Im really disappointed in our group. Were much better than that, and have got to fix it.

While the two goals in the third period and the overtime winner cant be placed entirely on Niemis shoulders, the Sharks goaltender was not good through the first two periods and didnt manage to make any big saves when the club needed them the most.

The Sharks fell behind 3-2 in the second period when Steve Downie scored a soft goal on Niemi, throwing the puck towards the net from a bad angle and seemingly catching the Sharks goaltender off guard at 14:08. Late in the first period, Teddy Purcell slid one inside the far post at 19:35 of the first period on a power play to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead on another stoppable shot, and Niemi allowed a bad rebound to Stamkos on Tampa Bay's first goal.

In total, Niemi allowed six goals on 25 shots in suffering the fourth loss in his last five starts.

He wasnt any good. I protect him and a lot and talk about the team. He has to be better. Flat out, has to be better, McLellan said.

It got really hard at the end of the second, giving up the soft goal and trying to get back in the game, Niemi said, likely referring to Downies goal.

McLellan wasnt letting the rest of the team off the hook, though, either.

They scored four goals on net play: rebounds, picking up the garbage, wraparounds, jams. Thats our d-men, thats our low forwards. So, everybody has some responsibility, but Nemo knows he has to be better, said the coach.

The Sharks poured 50 shots on goal, their highest total since they managed 52 on opening night against Phoenix.

Obviously we didnt play well enough in our own end. We turned pucks over and had a lot of d-zone breakdowns, but we created enough offense, I think, to win that game, said Logan Couture, who finished with a goal and an assist.

One more reason the Sharks struggled defensively was that they were forced to play most of the game with just five defensemen. Douglas Murray was struck with a puck in the throat area just four minutes into the game, and taken to the hospital for precautionary observation. His status for the remainder of the road trip is unclear.

NEWS: Murray taken to hospital for precautionary observation

I thought we managed it well, especially in the second period, when the changes are even tougher. And then we get out in the third period and decide we want to get in a track meet with five defensemen, McLellan said.

After Downies goal gave the Lightning a 3-2 lead, the Sharks scored a pair of goals in succession to take their first advantage since Couture opened the scoring with a power play goal at 1:16 of the first.

Wingels drove hard behind the net and tried a wraparound that deflected out to Marc-Edouard Vlasic in front, and Vlasic made no mistake in depositing his fourth goal of the year at 14:37, just 29 seconds after Downies goal.

An unlikely scorer put San Jose ahead just over a minute later. Jamie McGinn fired a wrist shot on net that Dwayne Roloson kicked right back out to Colin White, and White registered his first goal as a Shark and first in 148 games. Whites previous goal came against the now non-existent Atlanta Thrashers on Dec. 28, 2009 while he was still with the Devils.

Michal Handzus seventh goal of the season at 1:44 of the second re-tied it at 2-2.

The Sharks and Lightning announced a trade between the two clubs immediately before the game. San Jose acquired forward Dominic Moore, who was most recently the Lightnings third line center, as well as a seventh round pick in 2012 in exchange for a second round pick in 2012. Moore did not play, instead going home to pack for the remainder of the Sharks road trip.

McLellan was informed just before the game about the trade, and the players didnt find out until afterward.

Asked about Moore, Couture said: Grit, got some playoff experience. He was big for them last year in their playoff run. Hes going to help our team. I havent met him yet, but hes definitely going to help us.
Odds and ends: The Sharks won 36 of 66 faceoffs. Joe Thornton and Ryane Clowe tied for a game-high six shots apiece. San Jose was 1-for-2 on the power play while Tampa was 1-for-1. Despite his goal, Colin White was a -3, and was on the ice for four of the Lightnings six goals. Dan Boyle played a game high 30:37.

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


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


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.