Sharks-Maple Leafs: What to watch for


Sharks-Maple Leafs: What to watch for

PROGRAMMING NOTE: The Sharks and Maple Leafs drop the puck at 4 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California, preceded by Shark Byte at 3:30. You can catch catch Sharks Postgame Live following the game for all the news and analysis.

TORONTO -- If you just so happened to possess a crystal ball, and told the Sharks a dozen days ago that they would come home with a .500 record on their season-long nine-game road trip, they wouldnt have been very happy about it.

At this point, though, that would be considered a remarkable accomplishment. San Jose, 1-4-1 on the trip so far, will try and right the ship once again tonight against the Maple Leafs and put an end to its four-game losing streak.

Dan Boyle said the Sharks lacked desperation, an ever-so-popular term this time of year, in their ugly 6-3 defeat to the NHLs last place Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night.

But, I think were going to see it tonight, Boyle said. I think were aware of where were at, and we need to start putting some wins together and taking care of our own fate.

Where theyre at is now tied for first in the Pacific Division with the Phoenix Coyotes, and although the Sharks have two games in hand, could easily find themselves as the seventh seed in the Western Conference as early as the end of the night. The Coyotes face off in Calgary two hours after the Sharks drop the puck with the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.

You definitely dont want to limp going into the playoffs, Joe Thornton said. Weve got 24 games left, so weve got to play some good hockey.

Head coach Todd McLellan wants to make sure that the team looks at tonight as a fresh game, rather than carry the weight of its longest losing streak of the season.

When you carry baggage with you from one game to another, it becomes heavy on your shoulders. We talked about that a little bit yesterday. We erred, we werent ready, we didnt perform the way the way we wanted to against Columbus.

But, weve got to move on now, and play a little freer with a little less baggage on our shoulders. Well see what that does for us tonight.

Niemi vs. Reimer: A pair of struggling netminders will take the crease for their respective clubs as Antti Niemi opposes James Reimer.

Niemi was pulled after allowing three goals on 11 shots in the first period against the Blue Jackets, and has been wildly inconsistent for more than a month now, leading to some calls for more playing time for backup Thomas Greiss.

Greiss will likely play in one of the two games this weekend in Nashville and Minnesota, but tonight its up to Niemi to try and get his game going.

Its not just Niemis fault that the Sharks have given up 36 goals in their last nine games, of course (an average of 4.0 per game).

We dont blame anybody. We realize weve been giving up too many Grade-A chances, Thornton said. Both of our goaltenders have been playing good all year, so weve got to give them some support with coming down low, blocking shots and doing little things to not make those chances happen.

Boyle said: Defensively weve been strong all year, but unfortunately thats been our weakest point in the last couple weeks. Were giving up way too many goals. It starts on the back end with the goalie and ourselves, the d-men. Were a big strong team when we want to be, and weve got to work on it.

Reimer is also playing for the first time since getting pulled, when he allowed four goals on 18 shots in Vancouver on Feb. 18. The Maple Leafs' poor goaltending, including Jonas Gustavsson, has led to speculation that the club is looking to add a netminder before the trade deadeline.

Mitchell returning: Dominic Moores lower body injury means that Torrey Mitchell will likely return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch against the Blue Jackets. It was the second time Mitchell was pulled from the lineup this year as a coachs decision.

The first time, Mitchell responded well, with a goal and an assist on Jan. 7 against Washington.

I expect a complete repetition of what happened last time, McLellan said. It has to happen again. He has to be reminded. Hes much too effective of a player to not be contributing on a steady basis.

Sharks PP still surging: Although the Sharks are scuffling, the power play is still humming. It has scored at least a goal in nine of the last 11 games, going 14-for-39 over that span (35.9 percent).

On the season, that's bumped them up to third in the league at 21.2 percent. Matched up against the Leafs 29th ranked penalty kill (77.0 percent), and that may be something the Sharks could take advantage of on Thursday.

Its starting to get where were used to. Weve got a lot of movement, and just getting shots to the net and jamming away at some rebounds and the puck is going in for us, Marleau said of the man advantage.

Couture pacing the offense: Logan Couture has nine goals and 10 assists in his last 14 games. Hes showing no signs of slowing down, either, with a pair of goals in Columbus on Tuesday.

Hed rather be doing it while the team is playing well, though.

I guess Im in one of those grooves where the puck seems to find me and find the back of the net. Its nice scoring goals, but youd rather have the team win games and go goalless for five games if the team could win the next five, he said. Hopefully, we can get things on track tonight.

McLellan was also asked to comment on his budding star by the large contingent of Toronto media.

He tends to be on a line without the Thorntons and the Marleaus, so the focus still goes onto the big boys. Logan still doesnt always play against the top checking line so he has some freedom that way. When Thornton and Marleau are playing well, it frees up some space for him, said McLellan.

Incidentally, Couture, from nearby Guelph, Ontario, is looking forward to playing his first career game at the Air Canada Centre.

Im excited, and I was excited last night laying in bed thinking about it, he said. I watched a lot of Leaf games growing up, and I know a lot of Leaf fans. Hopefully we can beat em.

Odds and ends: Along with Dominic Moore, the Sharks are still without Douglas Murray, and will be for the rest of the road trip. Toronto is 1-5-1 in its last seven games. This is the only meeting of the season between these clubs. Joe Thornton has five goals and 10 assists in his last 11 games.

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.