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.

Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

SAN JOSE – The Sharks didn’t make any blockbuster moves last summer, content to make another run in 2016-17 with largely the same group that came within two wins of capturing the Stanley Cup.

They still acquired a notable player, though, when Mikkel Boedker was signed on July 1 to add an element that the Sharks knew they needed more of moving forward – speed. Boedker was expected to make the team faster, after the Sharks were exposed for not having enough of that against Pittsburgh in the NHL’s final round, as well as play in a top six role. 

At the time, it was hailed as a slick, under-the-radar move that wasn’t going to change the dynamic of the club but could help push it over the top.

When Boedker was a healthy scratch in games three and four of the first round against Edmonton, the evidence became clear, though, that this was a decision that fell flat on its face. 

Frankly, Boedker – who is signed for three more years with a $4 million salary cap hit – brings back visions of Sharks bust Marty Havlat. You know the skill is there, but the desire to use it on a nightly basis while showing any semblance of a battle level is lacking. 

Should the Sharks give Boedker another chance next season, or should they do everything in their power to try and move him? That’s a question that will likely be debated in the front office over the next several weeks.

On get-away day on Monday, indications were that the Sharks were planning on sticking with the 27-year-old, who finished with 26 points in the regular season (10g, 16a) and added one goal and one assist in four games in the playoffs.

“He has the things we’re looking for: his career scoring average, his speed, [penalty killing] ability,” general manager Doug Wilson said. “Did he meet the expectations that he had for himself [or] that we had for him? No. Can we get that out of him? Pete [DeBoer] believes we can.”

DeBoer has known Boedker since he played for him in 2007-08 in Kitchener (OHL). Despite scratching him in the playoffs, DeBoer said he saw “huge improvement” in Boedker throughout the course of the season after the forward spent nearly all of his NHL career in Arizona.

“There was an adjustment. He’s played 6-7 years a certain way in the NHL,” DeBoer said. “We’ve asked him to play differently here, and there was an adjustment.”

Boedker still believes that he can be a fit in San Jose.

“I think it will be and it can be,” he said. “It’s learning period, but you’ve also got to look in the mirror yourself and see what you can change and what assets you need to bring. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m ready to do that.”

The list of Sharks depth forwads that had frustrating seasons hardly begins and ends with Boedker, though.

Veteran Joel Ward’s production dipped from 43 points last season to 29 in 2016-17, although that probably isn’t too surprising considering he’s 36. Tomas Hertl is proving to be a streaky player, too, although his season was interrupted by another a knee injury.

The bigger disappointment came from players like Chris Tierney and Joonas Donskoi, who both made big impressions in the 2016 playoffs but struggled to produce consistent offense this year. Both were mentioned by name by DeBoer on Monday.

There are some promising youngsters in the pipeline like Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen, but it’s still too early to project any of them as can’t-miss scorers at the NHL level.

“I think we’ve got a large group of guys that I like, but need to step up,” DeBoer said. “Is Sorensen [like] Donskoi next year, where he takes a step back, or [does he take a] step forward? We’ve got a lot of guys that there’s a lot of potential there – Chris Tierney. 

“There’s a lot of those guys, but they need to have big summers and take a step, and show that they’re not just one season or one month players.”

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.