Sharks-Blackhawks: What to watch for

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Sharks-Blackhawks: What to watch for

SAN JOSE A pair of struggling teams meet at HP Pavilion tonight when the Sharks host the Chicago Blackhawks in the fourth and final game of their season series.

San Jose will be trying to end a two-game losing streak and has dropped five of eight overall (3-4-1), but that pales in comparison to Chicagos 0-5-1 stretch in which its been outscored 27-12.

The Sharks havent been good defensively, either, surrendering an uncharacteristic nine goals (one in an empty net) in their past two games in losses to Phoenix and Calgary.

Too loose, too many freebies and too many turnovers, is how head coach Todd McLellan described it on Friday morning. If were playing the way I believe we can, well fix those areas, and well still be in for a tight game. Theyre a group trying to fix their own issues, and Im sure theyll come out with a lot of fire early in the game and well have to match that.

Bad changes, turnovers, giving up odd-man rushes, Couture said about the Sharks recent issues. Thats something that we need to work on here, starting tonight.

The Sharks are 1-1-1 against Chicago this season, which will play its fifth game of a nine-game road trip.

It's the final home game for the Sharks until Feb. 28, when they host Philadelphia. San Jose embarks on a nine-game road trip of its own beginning on Sunday at St. Louis.

Stop the top line: The Blackhawks top line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Viktor Stalberg was nothing short of dominant in a 4-3 Chicago win over the Sharks on Jan. 15, combining for five points and 17 shots on goal.

Kane and Toews have obviously spent plenty of time on the same line together throughout their brief yet productive careers, but were split up midway through Chicagos 5-2 loss to Colorado three nights ago. Instead, Toews was with Marian Hossa and Michael Frolik while Kane skated with Marcus Kruger and Patrick Sharp.

Dont be shocked to see them back together against San Jose, even though they remained apart during Chicagos practice at HP Pavilion on Thursday.

They spent most of that last head-to-head matchup in Chicago against the Sharks top line, centered by Joe Thornton.

You know theyre going to be in your end a little bit, Thornton said. I think when theyre in your end, just have your assignments, dont get puck-focused, and realize the puck has to come to the middle of the ice, so just protect from there.

Boyle back: As reported earlier, Dan Boyle will be back on the blue line for the Sharks, who sorely missed the veteran defenseman against Calgary when he sat out with the flu.

In 50 games, Boyle has four goals and 25 assists for 29 points and 53 penalty minutes.

He means a lot to our team, and real important that hes back in, McLellan said.

Keep clicking on offense: The Sharks' defensive struggles in the last two games have masked what has been a generally solid performance on the offensive side. That includes two of the Sharks big guns in Thornton and Logan Couture, each of whom bring scoring streaks into tonights game.

Couture has 10 points in his last seven games (5g, 5a), while Thornton eight points in his last four games (3g, 5a).

When youre on a groove like that the puck kind of follows you around and you feel like you get more chances on the ice, Couture said. You get some prime chances, and somehow the puck finds you in the other teams end. Im not sure how many games its been, but hopefully it can keep going.

McLellans challenge is to keep the team clicking on offense, while tightening up defensively and avoiding the blatant mistakes.

You fix one and the other breaks down on you. We cant be chasing, we have to have a complete game, he said. Its great that were finding ways to score three, which is our number, but when youre giving up four youre not putting any points in the bank. There will be a focus on the defensive commitment from both teams.

Niemi vs. Crawford: The Sharks will stick with Antti Niemi in net tonight, and the Blackhawks Corey Crawford will oppose him.

Niemi has had success against his former team for the most part, but allowed four goals on 40 shots at the United Center in the 5-2 loss. In his career, hes 4-2-1 with a 2.59 goals-against average and .921 save percentage, including one shutout on Nov. 23 against Chicago at HP Pavilion.

Hes played well against them in the past and hes due for a good game. We believe in him, McLellan said.

In four career starts against the Sharks, Crawford has a 2-1-1 record with a 2.23 GAA and .919 SP.
Odds and ends: The Blackhawks will be without the services of defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, out with a lower-body injury. Defenseman Steve Montador is out with an upper-body injury. Patrick Sharp has two goals and two assists in the last three games. Patrick Marleau has three goals and three assists in the last four games. Brent Burns has five assists in the last three games.

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.

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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.