Sharks

Sharks-Kings: What to watch for

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Sharks-Kings: What to watch for

LOS ANGELES Its been a long, not particularly productive trudge through the last two months of the season.

A win tonight in Los Angeles, though, would allow the San Jose Sharks (41-29-10, 92 points) to put that stretch in the rear view mirror. The team can secure a playoff spot with a victory over the Kings (40-27-13, 93 points) when they square off at Staples Center in the first of a home-and-home that concludes on Saturday night at HP Pavilion.

Dan Boyle said: This one allows us to get in the playoffs. We win this one tonight, and if my math is correct, were in. You play 80 games all year and it comes down to one, which is all were concentrating on.

The Sharks are in eighth place in the Western Conference, three points ahead of ninth place Dallas. The Stars visit the Nashville Predators tonight at 5:00 p.m. PST, and should they lose in regulation, they'll be eliminated. The Sharks would only need one point to mathematically eliminate Colorado (88 points), too, and secure their own spot. Colorado hosts Columbus at 6:00 p.m. PST.

RELATED: NHL standings

Todd McLellan would rather his club just concentrate on what it has to do, though, than scoreboard watch.

As a group, we have to assume that we need to take care of our own business, and that the two teams trailing us are going to win both of their games and Phoenix (in seventh place with 93 points) is going to sweep.

What it comes down to is our effort and our competition level, and our results against the Kings. We have an opportunity in front of us we can control as far as effort and everything else, and we need to take advantage of it.

Lineup unchanged: The Sharks are expected to ice the same lineup as they did in their two straight wins over the Dallas Stars. That means Douglas Murray will sit for the fourth straight game, despite appearing to be recovered from an undisclosed lower body injury.

Down the stretch, weve discussed finding a lineup thats winning and playing well, weve always kept it that way regardless of whos been in or out, McLellan said. Murray is a valuable person and very important to our team, not only today but moving forward. If hes healthy we would consider using him, but again, Ill stress that we like what weve seen from the six guys playing.

The Kings are still without winger Jeff Carter, who has an ankle injury and could miss Saturdays game, as well.

In the crease: Antti Niemi will make his 20th straight start, opposing Vezina Trophy candidate Jonathan Quick.

Niemi made his biggest save of the season in Tuesday nights 5-2 win over Dallas, stopping Jamie Benn on a breakaway in the third period with the Sharks nursing a 3-2 lead.

When Nemo plays like that, it sure covers a lot of different areas and different faults that guys have, Joe Thornton said.

In four games against the Sharks this season, Quick is 2-1-1 with a 1.72 goals-against average and .945 save percentage.

Regarding the Kings: Los Angeles season has been every bit a challenge as San Joses has. The Kings fired coach Terry Murray in December and replaced him with Darryl Sutter, and will also be trying to book their ticket to the postseason tonight.

The quotes coming from their players are predictably similar to what the Sharks are saying.

Weve got to take care of our business. Were going for that third seed, and thats our goal right now, leading scorer Anze Kopitar said on Wednesday. In order to get there we probably have to win two more, or one if we win tonight. Thats what were focusing on, and thats what were going after.

The Kings need just one point over these next two games to clinch a playoff spot.

Sutter said: I dont look at it as one point. I look at it as, its tough to win in this league. You better be prepared to leave it out there to try and win. What really has changed for us? Nothing. Either you finish in the top eight, or you dont.

LA struggles: The Sharks have lost both games here at Staples Center this year by a combined score of 7-2. That includes a 5-2 defeat less than three weeks ago, in which the Sharks were playing their second game in as many nights.

Whats been the problem?

Wed like to get more shots. They dont allow too many shots, said Thornton, whose club had just 22 on March 20. Wed like to get some more shots and more good chances. I dont think we had too many good chances last time we were in here. Theyre a good team, and I expect a good match tonight.

McLellan said: Both games in this building we havent played well. The first game Nov. 28, a 2-0 Sharks loss we were lethargic for two periods and then came out and played well in the third, but it was too little, too late. The last time in here, a shorthanded goal got us behind the eight ball. We did play back-to-back, and I thought they had more jump and more energy than our group did. We dont have that excuse tonight.

The Kings are 12-4-1 in their last 17 games.

Theyve become a better team the last couple years, and theyve had their share of ups-and-downs this year with the new coach, and trades and stuff, Boyle said. Theyre one win away from where they want to be, as well. Just a hard working team, and very good goaltending.
Odds and ends: Jonathan Quicks 10 shutouts leads the NHL. Simon Gagne and Scott Parse remain out for Los Angeles. Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are tied for the Sharks team lead in goals with 31. Anze Kopitars 25 goals and 48 assists are both team-highs for the Kings. Joe Thorntons 58 assists tie him for third in the NHL.

Five months after taking puck to face, Sharks' Logan Couture 'still pretty sore'

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AP

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

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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.