Sharks blanked by Blues in St. Louis 1-0


Sharks blanked by Blues in St. Louis 1-0


ST. LOUIS There are two aspects of the Sharks game that have been noticeably dreadful throughout most of their recent inconsistency. Both were on display in a 1-0 loss to St. Louis on Saturday night at Scottrade Center.

Special teams is one. San Jose finished the night 0-for-6 on the power play, while allowing a five-on-three power play goal to St. Louis Kevin Shattenkirk in the first period. The Sharks are just one for their last 26 on the power play.

The other is poor starts, and the Sharks failed to generate anything offensively through the majority of the first two periods of their fifth loss in the last seven games all in regulation.

Several of the Sharks players and the head coach chalked up the teams fourth shutout-against to solid defensive play by the Blues, who improved to 11-2-3 under Ken Hitchcock. That may be true, but the Sharks didnt have any Grade A scoring chances until there was 15:25 remaining in the third period, when Brad Winchester drove hard to the net and goalie Brian Elliott froze the loose puck before Joe Thornton could find it.

You have to get three guys around the puck just to come up with it before you get shots to the net, said Ryane Clowe. A lot of times we did that, but there were a lot of shots blocked and a lot of shots knocked down before they got to the net. Obviously, its a different mentality over there, and a different team and different system (under Hitchcock). They dont give up a lot of shots, and theyll take a 1-0 game any night, Im sure.

In my opinion, it was an April or May game, a lot of tight checking and a lot of playoff style grinding along the boards. Not many chances for either team, said Todd McLellan. Neither of the goalies was really that busy, it was just a lot of ping-pong and grinding type play along the boards. They got the one and we didnt.

Elliott improved on his already league-leading numbers, finishing with 24 saves. His goals-against average dropped to 1.45 and save percentage improved to .947. Still, he wasnt tested much by San Jose until late.

Midway through the third, he made a quick pad save on a one-timer by Joe Pavelski on a cross-ice pass from Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Logan Couture had the best chance with a minute left in the regulation, but Elliott stopped his one-timer from the slot on a feed from Thornton with Antti Niemi pulled for an extra attacker. It was a play that Couture said he should have capitalized on.

I should score in the slot on a one-timer, he said. I didnt shoot it where I wanted to. I wanted to go high glove side, and I wish I had that back. It feels like you get that one, you earn the team a point. I should have scored.

Shattenkirks goal came on a two-man advantage at 19:34 of the first period and held up as the only marker. His low wrist shot through defenseman Colin White beat Niemi, who finished with 18 saves.

I had some trouble tracking it, but I still saw the puck, said Niemi. I was caught a little bit deep there, I think.

Even with the Blues playing strong defensively and along the boards, the Sharks still had no less than a half dozen power plays. Their first two in the first period were especially bad, and the best scoring chances actually came from St. Louis sticks.

First, with T.J. Oshie off on a hooking call just 62 seconds into the game, Niemi made a nice glove stop on David Backes with the Blues on a two-on-one shorthanded rush.

Later, Niemi made a pad save on Oshie with David Perron in the box for holding at 7:15. Oshie spun Jason Demers around while cutting to the slot before lifting a sneaky backhand on net.

I was disappointed in the desperation in our first two power plays in the first seven minutes of the game, said McLellan. I thought thats where we lacked it a little bit. Their confidence went up in that situation and they felt like they had a good plan against our power play. That set us up for the rest of the night on the power play as not being very strong.

Power play wasnt very good, obviously. I think when youre not sharp early, it carries over, said Clowe. We didnt do anything. We didnt get any momentum off of it, and we didnt get any shots. It was disappointing. Our penalty kill did a good job, but the PP wasnt very good.

McLellan tinkered with his power play units, putting Pavelski on the point, where he was most of last season, and inserting Michal Handzus on the wing. Handzus had played just over 11 minutes combined on the power play this season, and skated for more than three minutes on Saturday.

It wasnt a very productive three minutes, though. His hooking penalty late in the first with San Jose on the power play helped lead to the Blues goal, and later, he was caught offsides on an odd-man rush.

We can field a hell of a lineup for power play when it comes to the personnel, said McLellan. Theyve proven in the past that they can do it, and were going through a tough skid right now.

The Sharks killed off four of five Blues power plays, although they caught a break after the Shattenkirk two-man advantage goal. Justin Brauns penalty should have carried over for more than a minute, but the referees incorrectly let him out of the box early.

The game featured Thornton and the Blues David Perron skating on the same ice for the first time since Thornton drilled the 23-year-old last November, causing him to miss 13 months with a severe concussion. The fans booed Thornton early on, and were particularly pleased when Shattenkirk drilled the Sharks captain along the boards in the second period.

Shattenkirk returned to the lineup after missing the previous game with the flu.

The Sharks visit the Blackhawks on Sunday.

Odds and ends: Andrew Murray was a healthy scratch for the second straight game, in favor of Frazer McLaren. Douglas Murray (right hand) and Jim Vandermeer (upper body) remain out. The game was the third 1-0 contest in which the Sharks have been involved in this season. They lost to Anaheim on Oct. 14 and beat Chicago on Nov. 23. San Jose won the faceoff battle for the 11th straight game, 30-29.

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.

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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.