Sharks fourth line prompts Oilers to adjust attack

Sharks fourth line prompts Oilers to adjust attack

SAN JOSE – There was rampant speculation after Game 2 that Sharks coach Pete DeBoer would dress tough guy Micheal Haley on Sunday in Game 3, after his club was outhit and on the receiving end of some borderline checks from Zack Kassian. If there is one guy at DeBoer’s disposal that could answer Kassian, Haley is the guy.

Instead, the coach stuck with a fourth line of Chris Tierney centering rookies Timo Meier and Marcus Sorensen, and it proved to be the right move. They were especially good in the first period, playing in the offensive end, finishing their checks and getting some good looks at the net. 

The line has been together since the start of the series, and according to NBC analyst Keith Jones, it’s “been [the Sharks’] best” line through three games.

"They were good. They had a lot of chances in that first period,” Logan Couture said. “Timo played really well. He cycled the puck, he was hard on pucks. ‘Tierns’ had a couple good looks, and so did Marcus. Obviously if you ask them I'm sure they'd say they'd like to score on a couple of those chances, but I thought they created them and did a good job."

Tierney had the best chance of all, getting the puck in the high slot with nothing between him and Cam Talbot, but he fired high and wide in the opening frame.

“It comes down to just burying your chances. We had a couple,” Tierney said. “I would have liked to bury that one in the first. I think we need to create more dirty opportunities to get goals. I don’t expect the two teams to give any more leeway, it’s going to be tight the rest of the series.”

Joe Thornton’s return to the lineup, along with the effectiveness of the fourth line, prompted Oilers coach Todd McLellan to make an adjustment to his attack. Leon Draisaitl, who had been on Connor McDavid’s wing, was shifted to the third line center with Kassian and Drake Caggiula. 

That was the line on the ice when Kassian took advantage of David Schlemko’s turnover in scoring the only goal in Edmonton’s 1-0 win. The Sharks had just eight shots on goal after the move, too, which occured about six minutes into the second period.

When asked about the line change, McLellan told the Edmonton Journal: “With [Thornton] coming back into the game, they’re big and strong down the middle. It’s one of their strengths. We started the night a certain way and I didn’t think it was working in our favor so we moved a few things around.”

DeBoer downplayed Edmonton's strategic decision.

“You guys want this boxed up so one change made a difference in the game. I don’t think that’s the reality,” he said. “It was an evenly played game all the way through. They make adjustments, we make adjustments. Their adjustment worked last night.”

There were no indications on Monday as to whether DeBoer - who had Tomas Hertl back on the Thornton/Joe Pavelski line late in Game 3 - would make any adjustments to his lines for Game 4, as the team held an optional skate with many players staying off of the ice. But, expect that fourth line to remain together, at least to start.

“I thought they had great energy,” DeBoer said. “I thought they were excellent in the first period. Probably forced them to make a change, which they did. We’ve just got to continue to keep going at it.”

* * *

Mikkel Boedker, who was a healthy scratch for one game in the regular season, was the odd man out for Game 3. He was on the ice longer than any other Sharks forward on Monday’s off-day.

Whether he returns for Game 4 is unclear.

“Those are tough decisions. It wasn’t easy,” DeBoer said. “I don’t think it’s been all bad. I think he was really good in Game 1. He could easily be back in there tomorrow.”

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.

* * *

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.