No sophomore slump for Couture

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No sophomore slump for Couture

SAN JOSE Logan Couture might be a little reluctant to flip the calendar to a new year on Sunday.

After all, the Sharks forward had a memorable 2011. He cemented himself as one of the NHLs top young talents, was a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the leagues rookie of the year, and is currently the Sharks leading goal scorer in his second full season.

Hes scored nine goals in the Sharks last 13 games, and has been the teams most consistent forward.

Hes one of the most competitive guys Ive been around. He wants the puck all the time, Todd McLellan said.

He gets better every day.

It didnt start out too well in October, though. Couture entered the year firmly entrenched on the Sharks second line, after the team moved scorers Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi in the offseason. The pressure was on his shoulder pads to at least repeat the 32-goal, 54-point performance from his rookie year.

In the first five games, Couture managed a meager two assists and no goals.

I talked with Logan in the summer about what he was going to face coming up, McLellan said. The attention he was going to receive, not only locally, but when we travel to other cities and Canada. Also, from there, the preparation that other teams were going to make for him and his line.

I would say, out of the gate, he wasnt quite prepared for it. But, probably four or five games in, he started to evolve and now its been consistent game-in and game-out.

Since then, Couture has had just one stretch where hes failed to go without a goal in four games.

Every player goes through slumps like that, where they dont score a goal in a certain amount of games, Couture said. Mine just happened to be at the start of the year, and things have been pretty consistent as of late.

Coutures linemate for most of his first two years, Ryane Clowe, credits Coutures mental approach to the game as one of the reasons hes been able to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

It was kind of a little but of a test to see how he responded when he went through a slump, and you see, it didnt bother him, Clowe said.

I know first hand how good he is playing with him, and he makes me a better player. Ill admit that right away. Mentally, things roll off his shoulders pretty easily. I know thats easy when youre young, but I think thats just his attitude.

With 16 goals and 27 points in 34 games, and with his production on the upswing, Couture could very well reach the 40-goal plateau this year something only two Sharks have done since the NHL lockout (Jonathan Cheechoo, 56 in 2005-06; Patrick Marleau, 44 in 2009-10).

Coutures not hung up on a number, though.

It would sure be nice. I dont look at it and say I need to score 40 goals this year, but you need to consistently have chances and contribute offensively and well see where I am at the end of the year, he said.

Couture has also reversed an anomaly from his stats last year, in which the majority of his goals came on the road. When he fired a wrist shot past Roberto Luongo in Wednesday nights 3-2 overtime loss to Vancouver, it was his 11th goal at HP Pavilion after just 10 there all of last year.

Last year, I cant explain why I scored so many goals on the road, he said. The other team can get their matchup, where at home we get the matchup that we like.

It doesnt matter where the goals are coming, though, as long as they keep going in for the 22-year old as the calendar turns to January.

Im in one of those streaks right now where the puck seems to be following me around, Couture said. Im getting chances and scoring some goals. Its obviously nice to contribute, and hopefully it can continue.

Sharks blowout loss to Stars includes 'a month's worth of mistakes'

Sharks blowout loss to Stars includes 'a month's worth of mistakes'

DALLAS – In just two-and-a-half weeks, the Sharks will have the opportunity to defend their Western Conference title when the Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway.

(Take a deep breath. They won’t fall out of playoff position.)

Still, it’s a terrible time for them to be playing their worst hockey of the season, and going through the foulest stretch of coach Pete DeBoer’s two-year tenure.

The Sharks were flat-out embarrassed by the Stars on Friday night in their fifth straight regulation defeat, 6-1 in Dallas, showing no signs of life for the duration. Not even a verbal tongue-lashing from their normally reserved head coach in full view of the cameras in the second period got their motors going.

How do you explain this one, Joe Pavelski?

“I don’t know, good question,” said the captain. “There’s a commitment that needs to be there to win in this league right now consistently. Right now, we’re searching for that.”

DeBoer, too, was puzzled.

“You have a handful of those a year where nothing goes right and nobody’s got any kind of legs or energy,” he said. “It was one of those nights. I don’t have an explanation for it. I felt we prepared the right way the last couple days. I thought we felt pretty good about ourselves. Then, the puck dropped and everything went bad.”

It was evident early that the Sharks were off, as they couldn’t figure out a way to get the puck through the neutral zone for the first several shifts and didn’t register a shot on goal until 7:17 into the first period. The first of three Adam Cracknell goals – yes, Adam Cracknell – had them trailing 1-0 after the opening frame.

Traditionally, the Sharks would have found a way to jolt themselves to life at the intermission, as it was so plainly obvious that they didn’t seem focused or driven over the first 20 minutes.

This was a game, too, in which they were healthier, getting Jannik Hansen back in the lineup, and more rested than the Stars, who were playing their second game in as many nights while San Jose was coming off a rare two-day break. Furthermore, the Sharks have seen a nine-point lead in the Pacific Division evaporate to just two points headed into Friday’s action. Motivation should have been easy against a team that shut them out on Monday, to boot.

But the mental mistakes to start the second were even worse. Brett Ritchie was left alone by Brenden Dillon for a goal just 1:58 into the middle frame, and at 5:19, Brent Burns was caught staring at the puck off of a faceoff as Jamie Benn got free in front of the net to push the Dallas lead to 3-0. DeBoer's timeout and screaming session after that third goal did nothing, as Dallas got two more goals off of the rush and another on a breakaway by Cracknell after a gift turnover by goalie Aaron Dell before the night was through.

“That’s a month worth of mistakes in one night, so hopefully we get it out of the system,” DeBoer said.

The defensive miscues should be easily correctable, according to Dillon.

“If you look at a good chunk of those goals, we kind of know whether it was d-zone coverage, or off the rush, or just communicating with one another,” he said. “Stuff that’s not like us. I think if we watched the other 70 games this year, those kind of things don’t happen.”

Of course, the defensive errors become all the more glaring when a team isn’t scoring, either. The Sharks managed just one Joe Thornton power play goal, and have just five total goals in their last five games.

That part of their game wasn’t any better against Dallas than their defense, as Kari Lehtonen had a relatively tranquil evening.

“We have a lot of guys that are going through some tough times right now and struggling to get on the scoresheet,” Logan Couture said. “We're going to need all of those guys to bring more. That's from our top guys, including myself and on down. We need to do more offensively. Score goals, and do more defensively, as well.”

They have just eight more games to figure it all out.

“It’s not ideal, by any means,” Dillon said. “I think it’s maybe a bit of a wakeup call for us. … You can’t take a night off and you have to be emotionally invested. You’ve got to take every shift as hard as you possibly can.”

* * *

DeBoer had no update on Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who didn't play in the third period. The defenseman was seen leaving the dressing room under his own power, but looked to be walking a bit gingerly.

Instant Replay: Sharks allow six to Stars, losing streak now at five

Instant Replay: Sharks allow six to Stars, losing streak now at five

BOX SCORE

DALLAS – Entering the game with their longest regulation losing streak of the season, and playing against what should have been a tired opponent that is already out of playoff contention, the Sharks were obliterated by the Stars on Friday at American Airlines Center, 6-1.
 
From the drop of the puck, the Sharks looked like they had no interest in competing against a Dallas team that had played in Chicago on Thursday night, and had already beaten San Jose earlier in the week.

The loss stretched the Sharks’ losing streak to five, and it is the longest in more than six years when they dropped six in a row in regulation from Jan. 3-13, 2011. After enjoying a nine-point lead on the rest of the Pacific Division on March 14, the Ducks tied San Jose in points with 91 by beating the Jets at home on Friday night.
 
Adam Cracknell, who paced the Dallas offense with a hat trick, opened the scoring with his first of three goals. He drove the puck to the net while fighting off Brenden Dillon, and Micheal Haley inadvertently kicked the loose puck through Aaron Dell at 8:30 of the first period.
 
Prior to that score, it took the Sharks more than seven minutes to register their first shot.
 
San Jose escaped down just 1-0 at the first intermission, but it quickly got worse. Brett Ritchie was left open by Dillon and whipped in a pass from Tyler Seguin at 1:58, and then Dallas’ third goal really set off coach Pete DeBoer.
 
Joe Pavelski lost a defensive zone draw, and Brent Burns inexplicably vacated the front of the net, where Jamie Benn was wide open. Benn had all kinds of time to freeze Aaron Dell and slip through his 25th goal at 5:19.
 
DeBoer called timeout at that point, and was as visibly upset at his bench as he has been in his two seasons as head coach, barking away at the stunned Sharks skaters.
 
It didn’t help. Cracknell made it 4-0 off of a rush less than two minutes after the timeout, and although Joe Thornton got one back on the power play, the Stars scored two more times in the third period. 
 
Dell misplayed a puck on a Sharks power play, sliding it right to Cracknell for a breakaway in which he finished off a hat trick at 4:59. Just 21 seconds later, John Klingberg converted a two-on-one with Jason Spezza – who had three assists on the night – to make it a 6-1 Dallas lead.
 
The five-game winless streak is their worst since they went 0-6-1 from Dec. 1-12 last season.
 
San Jose has just five goals in its last five games.
 
The Sharks had Jannik Hansen back for the game, after the recent addition had missed the last two games with a head injury. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, though, was not able to finish the game, for reasons that were not immediately clear.
 
Special teams 
 
Thornton’s goal was his first on the power play all season, as the Sharks went 1-for-2. Dallas was 0-for-2.
 
Cracknell’s shorthanded goal was the fourth the Sharks have allowed this season.
 
In goal
 
Dell suffered his worst game of the season, and his NHL career, allowing six goals on 29 shots. He played all three games against Dallas, stopping 48 of 50 shots in the first two.
 
Kari Lehtonen, who shut out the Sharks with 30 saves on Monday in a 1-0 win, made 20 saves on Friday. He has played in 10 straight games.
 
Lineup
 
Timo Meier came out of the lineup for Hansen, while Danny O’Regan was reassigned to the Barracuda earlier in the day.
 
Burns snapped out of his seven-game scoreless streak with an assist on Thornton’s goal, but still has no goals in his last 15 games.
 
Dallas’ Tyler Seguin was skating in his 500th career NHL game.
 
Up next
 
The Sharks conclude their road trip Saturday in Nashville, their only appearance there in the regular season. In the first two games of the season series in San Jose, the Sharks won on Oct. 29, 4-1, but dropped a 3-1 decision on March 11.