Sharks-Blues: What to watch for


Sharks-Blues: What to watch for

ST. LOUIS A visit to the Scottrade Center in St. Louis is one heck of a way to start a nine-game road trip.

The Blues have collected points in 18 straight home games (15-0-3), and are 22-3-4 overall here. That includes a 1-0 win over the Sharks on Dec. 10, and a 3-2 overtime victory against the Colorado Avalanche last night.

If theyve got a streak going like that you want to break it, and be the team that breaks it, said Logan Couture on Sunday morning after the Sharks skate. Were looking at two points in the standings that we need to move up.

We know theyre good at home, Joe Pavelski said. Theyre a good team. They play hard, and its going to be a good challenge.

The Blues are among the surprise teams in the league this year, and are challenging for the top spot in the Western Conference with 73 points (37-17-2) just three behind the Detroit Red Wings, with whom they have two games in hand.

The Sharks (30-16-6, 66 points) are looking for back-to-back wins after beating the Blackhawks at home on Friday night.

Mistake-free hockey: The Sharks played a strong first and third period against Chicago, and it was the reason they were able to come away with a 5-3 victory (as was the power play, which finished 3-for-6).

It was the second period they would like to forget, though, as they saw a 2-0 lead evaporate and were outshot 17-3 by the Blackhawks.

Limiting mistakes with the puck, something that Sharks had trouble with in their two losses to Phoenix and Calgary in the games immediately preceding the Chicago win, is paramount against the opportunistic Blues.

I would say essential against this team, Todd McLellan agreed. However, "you cant be mistake-free and go out there thinking or being apprehensive about making mistakes. You have to be allowed to make some. Thats why there are four other guys on the ice to cover up for you and help out. But, its about overall game management. When they spend time in the offensive zone they are a big, strong team that cycles well and we have to turn the tide on them and force them to play in their own zone with that type of game.

If we play our second period against Chicago, we wont win. If we play the other two periods, well give ourselves a chance.

Getting back to the power play, that's one area the Sharks may have a distinct advantage. San Jose is 10-for-22 in the last eight games and 8-for-17 in the last five. St. Louis is 27th in the NHL in power play percentage at just 13.7 percent.

Good road game: Teams and coaches often preach of playing a good road game when not in the friendly confines of their own building.

What exactly does that mean?

When youre on the road youre a little bit more patient with the puck at times, Pavelski said. Youre not pressing to do something, and can play a little bit more boring style. That being said, were trying to accomplish the same exact things.

Establishing yourself right off the bat that youre going to compete hard and play is a big thing, McLellan said. You always like to play with the lead, so getting the first one is important, but not essential. Playing a clich simple, smart game.

In fact, that Sharks werent overly displeased with their game in the 1-0 loss here on Dec. 10, which was a tight-checking affair that McLellan and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock described afterwards as having a playoff-type feel.

It wasnt the most entertaining game as a spectator, but thats due in part to St. Louis style of play.

They give up very, very little, McLellan said. We talk about our number being three goals, but they can get to two and still win. Ive heard Hitch talk about checking for chances, and thats where most of their opportunities come from.
View from above: The Sharks got to St. Louis yesterday afternoon, providing the coaching staff an opportunity to watch the Blues home win over Colorado from the press box.

McLellan was asked about that experience, and if it can help him at all in his preparation for tonight.

Its just different when youre up there. You get another dimension to the game, he said. When youre at ice level its much faster but everything is at eye-level, too. Youve got to look through the trees and the forest. When youre up there, youre looking down on the forest. Its way easier to play from up there that it is down here.
Niemi in goal again: Antti Niemi will make the start for the Sharks, and is expected to face Jaroslav Halak after Brian Elliot went last night for the Blues.

Niemi is 4-3 with a 2.60 goals-against average in his career against the Blues, while Halak is just 2-2 with a 3.17 GAA and .911 SP vs. San Jose.

Both Blues netminders have impressive numbers this season, though. Elliott, an All-Star, leads the NHL with a 1.63 GAA and .939 SP (tied with Henrik Lundqvist), but Halaks stat line (2.04, .919) isnt far off. Elliott shut out the Sharks in Dec. 10 with 24 saves.

As a team, the Blues allow the fewest goals-per game in the NHL (1.94). The Sharks are fifth at 2.33 per game.

That could afford Thomas Greiss the opportunity to play in Washington on Monday night when the Sharks visit the Capitals. Greiss last appeared in a 5-2 win against Dallas on Feb. 2.

Odds and ends: Look for Jim Vandermeer to play at forward tonight in place of John McCarthy, as he skated there during practice while McCarthy was on the ice late. Blues forward Andy McDonald, who has missed the last 51 games with a concussion, was activated before the game. Logan Couture has an eight-game scoring streak (5g, 7a); Joe Thornton a five-game streak (4g, 5a); and Burns (8a) and Clowe (1g, 5a) have four-game streaks. The Blues are 2-0 against San Jose, including a 4-2 win at HP Pavilion on Oct. 15. David Perron has five goals in his last three games, including two against the Avalanche last night. Jason Demers (lower body) and Tommy Wingels (left shoulder) remain out, although both are expected to play on the road trip at some point.

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.