Sharks get much needed 2-1 win over Leafs


Sharks get much needed 2-1 win over Leafs


TORONTO It didnt have to be pretty. It just had to be a W.

The Sharks put an end to their season-long four-game losing streak on Thursday night in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre, 2-1. Patrick Marleau scored twice and Antti Niemi made 29 saves in a key rebound performance personally, and the Sharks improved to 2-4-1 on their nine-game road trip.

The team leaders Marleau and Joe Thornton, in particular did just that in a game that lacked scoring chances on both sides.

Obviously, when you go on a slide like that its got to be everybody, but definitely guys look to the leaders to get their game going and everybody kind of follows that way, said Marleau, who tallied his eighth game-winning goal this season. It was a good team effort tonight, and we had everybody going.

Todd McLellan said: They did what they had to do as leaders. Patty is always really motivated to play against Toronto, and Jumbo, playing at home, you could tell this morning he was excited. He was fidgeting a little bit and getting ready to go.

Thornton hails from nearby London, Ontario, and was among the best players on the ice. He set up Marleaus first goal just 32 seconds into the second period, finding him open in the faceoff circle with a perfect backhanded pass from the corner after a hard forecheck by Tommy Wingels.

Marleaus second came on a deflection midway through the second, tipping a wrister from Logan Couture on the power play at 10:43.

To get that first goal was huge, Thornton said. We kind of grabbed some confidence off of that, and the power play has been hot so that was nice to get one to get one there.

In its last 15 games, the Sharks' power play is an impressive 17-for-46 (37.0 percent).

Just as importantly, the Sharks made the lead hold up. The club had a dubious streak of nine straight games surrendering at least three goals in regulation, but tightened up defensively in front of Niemi and held the speedy Leafs to just one goal. It came on a slap shot by Jake Gardiner in which Joffrey Lupul was screening Niemi early in the third period.

I think we were able to, from early on, not give them too many rushes with three-on-twos or two-on-ones, Niemi said. I think there were a couple rebounds that the Leafs werent able to get to, so we did a good job there, too.

Niemi finished with 29 saves and won for just the second time in his last eight starts. That included a pair on Matthew Lombardi in the third with his club nursing that 2-1 lead.

After Dan Boyle broke his stick on a slap shot in the offensive zone, Lombardi raced the other way with the puck and got a shot off from the faceoff circle that Niemi turned aside. Later, Lombardi flipped a loose puck in the slot towards the net that was frozen by the Sharks netminder with 8:21 to go.

The desperate Leafs, fighting to stay in the top eight in the Eastern Conference, swarmed around the net on a few occasions late in the game but couldnt find the equalizer despite a strong third period in which they outshot the Sharks, 16-9.

Niemi held his ground.

He looked very confident, which is what were looking for, McLellan said. He looked comfortable. His teammates felt good about his game. It looks like we have Nemo back, which is a good thing for us.

The goaltender played super. As long as we clear out the second and third opportunities, hes going to stop the first one, Thornton said.

In their previous nine games, the Sharks had allowed a combined 36 goals (4.0 per game), going just 2-6-1 in that span and falling into a tie for first place in the Pacific Division with Phoenix.
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The low point came on Tuesday, when they allowed four goals in the first period en route to a 6-3 thrashing by the NHLs last place Columbus Blue Jackets in which the Sharks were sloppy, undisciplined and suffered defensive breakdowns all over the ice.

Thursdays win, in which the Sharks didn't allow a single Maple Leafs power play, was a much better performance.

We corrected the discipline part. We werent going to the penalty box. We didnt give up that many odd-man rushes. Pretty solid defensively, McLellan listed.

Just huge points this time of year, especially because we have been struggling a little bit to play good defensive hockey like we did, Thornton said. They way weve been winning all year was good defensive hockey. To get back to that was huge.

The Sharks still have a chance to secure a .500 record with games in Nashville on Saturday and Minnesota Sunday.

Odds and ends: Joe Pavelski took a high stick on the opening faceoff in the second period, which is why Tommy Wingels was on the ice on Patrick Marleau's first goal ... Marleaus 33 game-winning goals are the most in the NHL since the start of the 2008-09 season Benn Ferriero was scratched while Torrey Mitchell returned to the lineup. Dominic Moore (lower body) and Douglas Murray (fractured Adams apple) were out for San Jose. The Sharks have won five of their last six against the Maple Leafs (5-1-0). Joe Thornton has five goals and 13 assists in his last 15 games. Logan Couture has nine goals and 11 assists in his last 15 games. Jim Vandermeer and Mike Brown engaged in a spirited fight with 17:12 left in the third.

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.