Sharks-Kings: What to watch for

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Sharks-Kings: What to watch for

SAN JOSE The Sharks and Kings will meet for the first of six games this season, and the first since San Jose eliminated L.A. in the first round of the playoffs last April.

The matchup between the two California clubs has been pretty good for awhile, but those who were around for that hard-fought postseason battle agree it takes a playoff series to really get a rivalry going.

Last year with the playoffs, thats usually is what develops rivalries when you get to go at it in an intense environment like that, said Ryane Clowe. Its always been a good game, and now the fact that we did get to play them last year in the playoffs will only up the ante a little bit.

Im sure there will be some motivational carryover from the playoffs last year, said Todd McLellan. I think both teams have a tremendous amount of respect for each other and the way they play.

The Kings will be trying to snap a four-game winless streak, while San Jose will attempt to rebound from losing a third period lead to Nashville on Thursday.

In the crease: Sharks goalie Antti Niemi will look to rebound from a couple of rough outings in a row. The Kings have had trouble on the scoreboard lately, but there are no such problems in their net.

One only has to look at the numbers to see the difference. Niemi has a 3.09 goals-against average and .892 save percentage, while Jonathan Quick is fifth in the league with a 1.68 GAA and .941 save percentage.

Quick brings another element to his game other than just stopping the puck, according to Todd McLellan.

Hes very good at initiating the breakouts so you have to be more aware of where youre placing the puck, he said.

Could the Sharks will try and use those lively new boards to their advantage again, as they did when Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture teamed up for a goal against Nashville?

Line it up: It appears the Sharks and Kings will both be trying out some new line combinations for tonights game. For San Jose, look for Marty Havlat to play on the right side of Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe. The top line of Thornton, Pavelski and Couture remains untouched, while the third and fourth lines are the same as how they were two games ago.

Los Angeles, which has scored two goals or less in regulation in 11 of its 13 games, is also tinkering. Anze Kopitar, Simon Gagne and Justin Williams form the teams top line, while Mike Richards will be with Dustin Brown and Dustin Penner.

Penner, specifically, is a guy that the Kings would like to get going as he has just one assist in 11 games.

Mike sees the ice and makes plays, and Im hoping that generates some more opportunities for Penner and his game, to get his confidence on track on the scoring part of it, said Kings coach Terry Murray.

With as much skill as the Kings possess up front, its probably just a matter of time before they get the offense going. McLellan points out, though, that L.A. is a team that can get away with scoring slumps thanks to defensive depth and goaltending. The Kings are third in the league in goals-against per game (2.00).

When youre only giving up two a night, you can afford to struggle on offense a little bit and win some games, said McLellan. Its a very good team over there, one of the best well play, I think, during the year.
Improve the PK: The Sharks have allowed at least one power play goal in five of their last six games (14-for-20, 70 percent). The one game they didnt, however, was against Pittsburgh which oddly enough didnt have a single power play all game.

Thats dropped them to 29th in the NHL in that category (73.2 percent overall).

Patrick Marleau isnt hitting the panic button just yet, though.

Our numbers dont show it, but weve done a lot of good things, he said. We want those numbers to get better, and theres only one way to do it by doing it right and making sure we work hard. But, we dont need to take extra penalties to prove that point.

One thing the Sharks do have going for them is that they have stayed out of the box. They have been shorthanded just 41 times, the third fewest in the league.
Odds and ends: The Sharks won the regular season series last year with L.A., posting a 3-1-2 record. That includes two shootout wins. Kopitar has six points in the last five games. Joe Pavelski has 15 points in his last eight games (7g, 6a). The teams meet again on Nov. 28 in Los Angeles.

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.

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.”