Sharks-Columbus: What to watch for

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Sharks-Columbus: What to watch for

PROGRAMMING NOTE: The Sharks and Blue Jackets drop the puck at 4:00 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California, and be sure to stick around for Sharks Postgame Live following the game.

COLUMBUS The Sharks have lost four of the first five on a current nine-game road trip, but there doesnt seem to be a sense of panic in the locker room just yet.

A loss to the leagues last place team might change that. The Sharks (31-19-7) visit the Columbus Blue Jackets (17-35-7) tonight at Nationwide Arena, looking to complete a four-game season sweep of the club buried in 30th place in the NHL standings.

San Jose has just a two-point lead on Phoenix for first place in the Pacific Division, with two games in hand. After tonight, there are three games remaining on the season-long nine-game trip: Toronto, Nashville and Minnesota.

Weve left some points out there that we feel we should have had. Were not sitting where we want to be on this trip, and obviously these next few games are pretty important for us, Joe Pavelski said.

Todd McLellan gave the old coach-speak about taking things one game at a time, and not looking too far ahead.
RELATED: Vlasic to play in full cage

Nobody in there at all is talking at all about seeding or positioning or anything like that. At least not around me, and not that I know of. I know were not approaching it that way, McLellan said. Were talking about winning tonight.

Some good news for the Sharks is that defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic has declared himself fit to play after getting hit in the face with a puck on Sunday.

Nastiness continued? The Sharks and Blue Jackets faced off three times in January, so its not all that surprising that there seems to be a fair amount of animosity between the two teams.

First, there was Dane Byers elbow to the head of Andrew Desjardins here on Jan. 14 that resulted in a two-game suspension to the now minor league forward. Dan Boyle and Rick Nash have had a couple of encounters in the last two games, nearly dropping the gloves at one point. Finally, the teams combined for 92 penalty minutes in their previous matchup, including five fights, on Jan. 31 in a 6-0 Sharks win.

It got heated at the end (of the last game) but at least on our part, were more concerned about the win than anything else, Boyle said. This teams hopes for the playoff this year are pretty much done, so theyre in a different place than we are right now. Were fighting for our playoff lives and theyre playing a different type of game. I dont think the past has anything to do with it.

McLellan was asked if hell have to remind his club that now is not the time to settle personal vendettas.

We have to put the points in front of anything that we do, whether its evening scores or anything like that. But, thats the way we want to approach this game. We want to play hard, establish our ice, score more goals than they do and leave with two points, he said.

Checking the lineup: Based on line rushes at the full-team skate on Tuesday, Patrick Marleau will return to the top line with Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton; Tommy Wingels will skate with Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe; Dominic Moore is between Benn Ferriero and Jamie McGinn, while the fourth line looked to be Michal Handzus, Brad Winchester, and Andrew Desjardins.

If you dont feel like looking at a roster, that leaves Torrey Mitchell as the odd man out, which McLellan called a consideration after practice.

The head coach has mentioned before that having another forward around could be used as a motivating factor for other guys trying to stay in the lineup. He expanded on that philosophy now that Dominic Moore is here.

"There are some players every night, regardless of how well they play, they probably get the benefit of the doubt a lot of times, he said. Whether thats fair or not, thats sometimes how it works. Their cutback comes within games and on power plays and stuff like that.

Theres another group of players that have to work to stay in the lineup, and Moore gives us some real good depth on any one of the top three to four lines. I think as we find out more about him well have a better idea of how to use him in those roles and hell put pressure on others.

In the crease: Antti Niemi will make his second straight start tonight, looking to improve upon his effort from Sunday after a nightmarish game in Tampa Bay last Thursday. Steve Mason was the first goalie off of the ice for Columbus.

Mason allowed all six San Jose goals in the 6-0 loss to the Sharks on Jan. 31, while Niemi made 30 saves in that game in recording one of his four shutouts this season.

Thomas Greiss got the win in the first two games of the season series, both ending with a 2-1 score.
Blue Jackets talk Sharks: A couple of soundbites from Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger and head coach Todd Richards this morning, when asked about tonights game:

You want to go out and beat a good team. Thats what its about right now for us, Umberger said. Were trying to match ourselves up against the best teams and see what we can do. Weve challenged ourselves in here to win some games right now and go into next season with momentum, and thats what were trying to do.

Richards, a former Sharks assist coach, said: Theyre going to be ready to go. Theyve got great leaders in the room and its a big game for them as far as part of their road trip and where they are in the standings.

Richards also commented on the penalty minute-heavy game on Jan. 31, most of which came when the game was already in the bag for the Sharks, who were ahead by a comfortable margin.

The way the game was going in San Jose, they were all over us. It was a 6-0 game. I think that challenges your pride and I think thats the way the game started to unfold, he said. I expect the intensity only because this is a real big game for San Jose and were still fighting and clawing, so its a big game for us, too.
Odds and ends: The Blue Jackets will be without defenseman James Wisniewski, but are getting Nikita Nikitin back. Columbus has lost three of its last four. Patrick Marleau has three goals and an assist in his last four games. Douglas Murray remains out for the Sharks. Columbus is the leagues worst team on the penalty kill (75.8 percent). San Joses power play is third in the league (21.1 percent). Joe Thornton: Playing against Detroit, we can pull a lot of positives out of that game. We felt like we played well and we competed for three periods. Out of that, just grab some confidence and settle down. We realize how tight we are in the Pacific and weve got to get some points.

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.

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.”