Sharks anxious for Game 2, Anaheim

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Sharks anxious for Game 2, Anaheim

SAN JOSE - Enough of these grueling, lengthy practices already. Lets play another hockey game.

Thats what Joe Thornton is saying, and you can assume every other player in the locker room is thinking something similar.

I just want to play. Enough of this practicing, said the captain. Its been a long time. Give me four-in-four, I dont care. I just want to get some games in now.

The Sharks will finally get back into game action on Friday night when they visit the Anaheim Ducks, trying to improve to 2-0 for the first time since the 2008-09 season. San Jose beat the Phoenix Coyotes 6-3 on Saturday, but has endured a number of long practice sessions at the hands of Todd McLellan and the coaching staff with no games on the schedule for five full days.

We practiced hard. Was it the right thing? I guess well find out over the next little bit, said McLellan after Thursdays practice. The intensity level, we really tried to keep it high - very competitive in the corners, a lot of bumping and grinding. We hope that sets us up for some good games moving ahead.

The intensity was very high, said Thornton.

The Sharks wont get any sympathy from the Ducks, though. Anaheim has not played since last Saturday either, and it didnt get the benefit of playing at home or even in North America. The Ducks began the season as one of four NHL teams taking part in games in Europe, as the Sharks did last season.

Anaheim split its games there, winning in a shootout over the New York Rangers on Saturday but losing decisively to the Buffalo Sabres the night before.

Is there a chance they will be jet-lagged or lethargic on Friday night? The Sharks dont think so.

We expect their best game and I think thats what were going to get, said Joe Pavelski, who tallied two power play goals against the Coyotes. They will be excited to come home and play, and its our first road trip so we want to start off on the right foot. Its almost like another start to the season.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic said, Its pretty even. Both teams are well rested and ready to start, really, the regular season.

The beginning of games is always important, but the start to this one may be even more so. It should be evident early which team better dealt with the long layoff.

McLellan has a few things hell be looking for in the first 10 minutes.

Id like to see us match their commitment level, he said. They are going to come out and establish a forechecking game and try to hem us into our end. In turn, Id like us to be able to handle that well and play with a tempo that we played in Game 1 here fast, aggressive, getting to loose pucks and hemming teams in.

If we can do that, well have a chance. If they are doing that to us were going to be on our heels and probably not playing that well.

Another consequence of the layoff is that the Sharks will now have more games in bunches, including a stretch of three in four nights. San Jose hosts the St. Louis Blues on Saturday and the Ducks on Monday.

I think well know a lot more about our team on Tuesday morning than we do right now, said McLellan.

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 Monday afternoon, NBC Sports California has learned.

According to a source, the damage to Thornton’s MCL was more significant than his ACL. The Sharks are expected to provide an official update on Thornton later on Tuesday.

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.

Power play at the center of Sharks' downfall in 2016-17

Power play at the center of Sharks' downfall in 2016-17

SAN JOSE – There was an NHL coaching casualty on Monday on a team that flamed out in the first round.

No, it wasn’t in San Jose. It was in Chicago, as the Blackhawks fired assistant coach Mike Kitchen, who was in charge of their penalty kill. Chicago, swept by Nashville despite finishing atop the Western Conference, finished 24th on the PK in the regular season.

When it comes to the Sharks’ coaching staff, there’s no doubt that head coach Pete DeBoer will return, but it’s fair to wonder if assistant coach Steve Spott is feeling a little heat right now. The Sharks’ power play, a primary focus of Spott’s, finished just 25th in the NHL this season (16.7 percent) after it was third in the league in 2015-16 (22.5 percent).

When asked if the full Sharks’ coaching staff would return next season, general manager Doug Wilson didn’t offer anything definitive.

“I haven’t sat down with them yet. I think they did an outstanding job,” Wilson said. “You go through the last 12 months with a compressed schedule, very few practices, integrating players. I’m very pleased with their performance.

“I think there are things that they want to do better. We all have to take a look back and be honest, and say since we’re not playing right now, what can we do better? I think that transparency and honesty is a really good part of this group. We’ll do that in the next week.”

And what was Wilson’s perspective of the power play?

“It’s got to be better. [The coaches] will tell you. …  It’s not [always] the percentage or the number, it’s when you score goals. We certainly have the talent, and historically we’ve done very well,” Wilson said.

There was no part of the Sharks’ game during the regular season and in the playoffs that was more baffling and frustrating than it’s performance with a man advantage. Last season’s success seemed to bleed into October as the Sharks were running at a 24.1 percent rate through the first month of the 2016-17 season, but after November 1 and through the end of the season, the power play was a miserable 15.7 percent (34-for-217).

In the playoffs the Sharks were a more respectable 5-for-28, but even DeBoer called that misleading as four of those came in the 7-0 blowout in Game 4. They were 1-for-18 the rest of the series.

DeBoer, as the head coach, took responsibility for that part of the Sharks’ game when asked how much the miserable power play grinded on Spott.

“It grinds on all of us,” he said. “This isn’t about Steve. The power play is not about Steve. The power play is about our whole staff. We sit on all those situations as a group, and I’m the ultimate guy responsible for all those things. 

“I think it ground on all of us. It didn’t give us momentum, it didn’t create momentum even when it wasn’t scoring. That’s what you want your power play to do, is at least give you some momentum that you’re feeling good coming out of it. We didn’t get that, so that’s something that’s right at the top of our list.”

One baffling aspect of the power play is that the coaching staff hardly ever tried anything different with its units unless it was forced into it due to injury. Patrick Marleau was bumped from the top unit for a brief stretch in the middle of the season, but it didn’t last very long.

The second unit generated just seven goals in the 82-game season, and none after Feb. 2 other than rookie Danny O’Regan’s score in the final game when several Sharks regulars were resting.

One argument regarding the top unit is that it simply became too predictable. Joe Thornton could be counted on to pass, Brent Burns was going to shoot any chance he got, and Joe Pavelski would be hovering somewhere around the slot looking for a deflection.

Pavelski said: “There were times where maybe we rushed it, forced a few things. Definitely all year it could have been a little better, a little more of our identity and what it has been in the past. So, that’s on us as players.”

DeBoer said: “I think we got a little stagnant. I don’t think we had as much motion as we usually have and as much movement, and that comes with some confidence. You lose confidence, you tend to stand still. That’s something that we’ve got to get back.”