Sharks-Kings: What to watch for


Sharks-Kings: What to watch for

SAN JOSE The Pacific Division title may be on the line when the Sharks host the Kings in the final game of the regular season tonight at HP Pavilion.

Or, it may not. A Coyotes win over the lowly Minnesota Wild would give Phoenix its first division title, and the Kings and Sharks would be playing to determine which is the seventh and which is the eighth seed. They should know the stakes right around game time, since the Phoenix-Minnesota game begins two and a half hours before the puck drops in San Jose at 7:30 p.m.

Well try to win. We cant control the other games, and well see after the game where everybody ends up, Marty Havlat said.

Regardless of what they are playing for or not playing for the Sharks would like to go out on a high note. The club could enter the postseason riding a four-game winning streak.

You want to feel good going into the playoffs. Weve got a good thing going right now. We want to keep that going, Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. Guys are feeling good, playing together, and it was great emotional game the last time against LA. Guys are feeling confident, and want to go into the playoffs feeling confident, as well. A big win tonight will do that for us.

Ryane Clowe said: Theres only one game left so you want to make sure you have a good one, and carry that momentum into the playoffs.

The Sharks will face either the Blackhawks, Blues or Canucks in the first round.
Staying disciplined: The Sharks were shorthanded seven times against the Kings on Thursday, which is out of character. San Jose has been shorthanded just 223 times through 81 games a league low.

The fact that the penalty kill struggled, surrendering four Kings power play goals, isnt abnormal. San Jose remains 28th in the league in that regard (77.6 percent).

Todd McLellan was more annoyed with the penalties his club took than its performance while shorthanded.

We cant have an undisciplined game like that again from now until the end of the season, or it will cost us immensely, said the coach. To give up four power play goals and still win, I dont know how that happens in todays game, but it did.

We can look at the PK and there are some areas that we can be better at, but, quite frankly, its the march to the box that was disappointing.

The Sharks took a number of avoidable penalties in the game, especially late. TJ Galiardis elbowing infraction and Patrick Marleaus trip of Justin Williams in the third period prevented San Jose from a chance at winning in regulation when Williams scored on a five-on-three.

If you give them seven opportunities, especially two men short, theyre going to score. You want to minimize that to one, two or three chances in the playoffs, Vlasic said.

The Sharks were 3-for-6 on the power play against the Kings, and have the NHLs second-best percentage (21.0).

Handzus returns: It hasnt been a season to remember for Sharks forward Michal Handzus. Hes been in and out of the lineup since the trade deadline sometimes due to injury, and sometimes the coachs decision.

Torrey Mitchell is out with an undisclosed injury, though, so Handzus will play for the first time since March 26. Its a good bet hell skate on a line with Dominic Moore and Galiardi, in the spot vacated by Mitchell.

Handzus, incidentally, is the Sharks most proficient player in the shootout, going 5-for-10 this season. McLellan said that didnt factor in his decision to put Handzus in rather than, say, Brad Winchester.

We cant play one individual just based on the shootout, at all. You cant do that, McLellan said. We liked the way our four lines were playing, and we liked the energy that we got from them. That kept Michal out of the lineup, and that also gave him some time to heal.

Now, him drawing an assignment to come in to play does two things. It gives us a big body, it gives us a faceoff guy, which we were poor in for most of the game, and it gives us a guy that can penalty kill and play on the power play. And, it gives him an opportunity to get his game together at least once before the playoffs start.
Repeat of Thursday? San Joses 6-5 shootout win against the Kings had just about everything a hockey fan can ask for goals, power plays, hits, and, of course, fights.

Could tonight be more of the same?

They just play a hard, good style. I dont think there will be much difference, Clowe said. Theres still a lot on the line and an opportunity to win the division. Weve been playing that way for awhile, weve had to play that sort of playoff hockey style to have an opportunity to get into the playoffs. Weve been playing that way and playing well, and I dont see that changing.

Clowe was asked if he expects to be targeted at all after his infamous play from the bench on Thursday, when he illegally broke up a Kings rush up the ice.

I doubt it. If I get targeted, Im more than willing and ready, he said.

McLellan is simply hoping that his club doesnt let its guard down now that its already in the postseason.

The concern of our staff is that we take a collective sigh of relief as a team and we let our guard down, he said. Thats not what were here for. Weve got to play and weve got to play hard. Our game tonight sets us up for whatever adventure we have going forward is. We want to play hard and want to play well.

Odds and ends: The Kings remain without winger Jeff Carter, who has an ankle injury. Antti Niemi will face Jonathan Quick in net. Anze Kopitar had three assits on Thursday, and leads the Kings in scoring with 76 points (25g, 51a). Ryane Clowe and Joe Thornton each had Gordie Howe hat tricks against the Kings on Thursday.

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.

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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.