Sharks-Blues: What to watch for


Sharks-Blues: What to watch for

ST. LOUIS Everyone in the hockey world is glad that Blues winger David Perron is finally back. Especially Joe Thornton.

Thornton, of course, buried Perron with a shoulder check on Nov. 4, 2010 in St. Louis, forcing the 23-year-old to miss 13 months and 97 games with a severe concussion.

Obviously, you dont want to hurt anybody. Its unfortunate hes been out for so long, but to see him back playing put a smile on my face and for him to score in his first game back was exciting, as well, said Thornton. I wish him all the health in the world now.

When Perron was ready to return on Dec. 3 against Chicago, Thornton made sure to text him before that first game and wish him luck. Perron went on to score a goal in a 5-2 loss for the Blues.

Its not something that I expected at that point, but it was nice to get, said Perron of the surprise text. Hes a nice guy, and its obviously not a play that was really smart on his part, but it happened and I moved on from that. It was nice to get it, for sure.

Perron made it known to the media that Thornton reached out, in part because he wanted to turn the page and make sure others do, as well.

A lot of people were and still are mad at him. Im not one of them, said Perron. I just wanted to share it with people because I know hes a classy guy. Obviously, you make mistakes in life and that was one he made last game, but Ive moved on from that.

Thornton mentioned that he and Perron will speak either before or after the game, and that hell keep that conversation between the two of them.

Back on the road: The Sharks bring a 7-3 road record into tonights game at the Scottrade Center, much better than their 8-6-1 mark at HP Pavilion. Its the beginning of a three-game trip for San Jose, which visits Chicago on Sunday and Colorado on Tuesday.

Whats been the difference on the road this season?

I dont know. Maybe we simplify our game, said Marc-Edouard Vlasic. It seems like things are going well for us on the road, so we have to keep that going against a very good team.

Patrick Marleau thinks the key to road success is keeping it simple, and making sure that youre ready right from the bat. Usually teams come out hard at home the first 10 minutes or so and you have to be ready for that, and ready to whether the storm and find your own game.

St. Louis is 10-3-1 at home.

Power outage: The Sharks bring the 10th ranked NHL power play into tonights game, but are just 1-or-17 over their last six games. That includes an abysmal two-man advantage for nearly two minutes that the Sharks were fortunate to get away with, during the 5-2 win over the Stars on Saturday.

The execution was pretty poor, said Marleau, who had a couple of misplays with the puck during that advantage.

Vlasic would like to see the Sharks get more shots on the net when they are on the power play.

Especially these guys, they work hard with big bodies on the back end, he said. They block a lot of shots, so well try to shoot to break them down and hopefully the power play will get one for us tonight.

The Blues havent been any better on the power play, entering the game with a league-worst 10.4 percent success rate.

Battle ready: The Sharks have surrendered a combined total of just 41 shots over their last two games against Minnesota and Dallas. Even though they lost 2-1 against the Wild last Thursday, Todd McLellan thinks that the Sharks hard working mentality, which has lacked at times this season, is paying dividends.

In our two previous games weve given up 41 shots on goal which is pretty darn good, defensively. You have to be doing something right battling, that doesnt happen by mistake, he said.

I think that we went to the net a lot harder, we kept pucks in the offensive zone because of it, and maybe even more importantly we took some good finished checks from the other team in our zone to breakout, and we had good support.

Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock also saw that on the game tape between the Sharks and Stars, and it's the biggest key to the game tonight from his perspective.

Its kind of whoever controls the end boards is going to win the hockey game, said Hitchcock. If they get the end boards on you, like they did against Dallas once they dialed it up, its pretty hard to play against them. If we can get the end boards on them were very competitive in the offensive zone, too. So, well see who gets the end boards.

Odds and ends: Douglas Murray and Jim Vandermeer remain out for the Sharks. Todd McLellan had his lines rearranged at the morning skate, including Joe Thornton between Jamie McGinn and Brad Winchester, and Joe Pavelski on the wing with Patrick Marleau and Michal Handzus. Blues goalie Brian Elliott will oppose Antti Niemi. Elliott has a league-best 1.56 goals-against average and .944 save percentage. St. Louis allows just 2.08 goals per game, second in the league to Boston. St. Louis is 10-2-3 since Hitchcock took over. The Sharks have the most shots in the league per game (34.5) while St. Louis allows the fewest (26.3).

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.

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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.