Sharks-Lightning: What to watch for


Sharks-Lightning: What to watch for

SAN JOSE One advantage the Sharks will have tonight as they prepare to face the Tampa Bay Lightning is that by playing at home, San Jose will get the last change.

In other words, expect to see Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic out there as much as possible when the NHLs leading scorer, Steven Stamkos, is on the ice.

We dont play them much so I just watch him, but he gets open all the time, said Vlasic of Stamkos, who has 20 goals already this season, and three goals and four assists in his last three games. He has a quick release and a very good shot. Thats what he does. He finds the open spots, and if he has an opening, its going in the net every time.

Todd McLellan cautions against focusing too much on one player, though. Although Martin St. Louis is still out, recovering from a puck to the face earlier this month, Tampa Bay still has some proven veteran scorers like Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Malone.

Its always important to have that last change, but teams can do other things to get away from that," said the coach. "Its not necessarily Boyle and Vlasic Ive really liked Justin Braun and Colin White, and I think they can defend some of the teams top pairs, as well.

The biggest reason the Lightning have been a disappointment this season is an inability to keep the puck out of their own net. Tampa Bay enters Wednesday night as the 28th-ranked NHL team in goals-against per game (3.28).

Staying hot at home: The Sharks are in the midst of a six-game homestand, and have managed to squeak out a pair of one-goal victories in the first two. After the Lightning, San Jose hosts Los Angeles on Friday, Anaheim next Monday and Vancouver on Dec. 28.

After that, nine of the teams next 13 games will be away from HP Pavilion.

When youre on an extended period of home games you want to win as many as you can. We know how tough it is to win on the road in this league, said Logan Couture. This building is tough for teams to come in and play, and weve got to play well on our home rink. Obviously, winning the first two helps, so weve got to stay on this roll.

The Sharks are 3-1-2 in their last six games, getting eight of a possible 12 points. They have not lost in regulation since a 1-0 defeat on Dec. 10 in St. Louis.

It seems like when you win you hardly make up any ground, but when you lose, you drop out, said Brent Burns. Obviously, its nice to be at home in front of our fans and get that home cookin'.

Improving special teams: Patrick Marleaus power play goal in the third period was the difference in Saturdays 3-2 win over the Oilers, ending a brutal stretch in which the Sharks were just two for their last 35 with a man advantage.

My biggest concern is our special teams play right now, said McLellan. Early in the year, it was obviously the penalty kill, and of late its been a little bit more of the power play.

Since the win over the Oilers, the Sharks enjoyed two practice days on Monday and Tuesday to work on the power play and their 29th-ranked penalty kill unit.

Big power play goal the other night, and a lot of work on special teams once again over the last couple of days, said McLellan. Hopefully, well see the fruits of our labor tonight.

Ferrieros opportunity: Marty Havlats injury will provide a huge chance for recent recall Benn Ferriero to establish himself as an every day player, while Havlat recovers from a left leg injury.

Ferriero, who flew in from Worcester on Monday, will get a look on the wing with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski.

Basically, I really just have to try and keep up with them, get the puck to them and let them go to work, Ferriero said after the morning skate. I get the chance to come up here and play with guys like this, its only going to help me.

This is Bennys opportunity, said McLellan. A lot of times, when you bring that type of player up you plop him on the third line or fourth line, and it doesnt always fit what his strengths are. This is his chance to play in a top-six role for a little while."

Its Ferrieros second stint with the Sharks this season. He scored the game-winning goal on Oct. 22 in Boston in a 4-2 Sharks win, but just two games later, was among a group of Sharks benched in the second half of a 4-2 win in Detroit.

I really think hell be fine for three or four games. Its what hes going to do long term, if we keep him here, that will really make it or break it for him.

Odds and ends: Sharks general manager Doug Wilson will update the status of Marty Havlat at 6:15 prior to tonights game. San Jose leads the league in shots per game with 34.2. The Sharks have won their last three home games against the Lightning, including a 5-2 win last November. Antti Niemi will start for the Sharks. Hes s 8-2-0 with a 2.10 goals-against average over his last 10 home games. Mathieu Garon is expected to start in net for the Lightning, as he was the first goalie off in the morning skate.

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.