Sharks-Oilers: What to watch for


Sharks-Oilers: What to watch for

Editor's Note: It's Saturday Night on Ice! Download your Shark-O cards and play along with the Oilers vs. Sharks!

SAN JOSE The Sharks will complete a busy stretch of seven games in 11 days on Saturday night when they host the Edmonton Oilers at HP Pavilion.

A dormant offense finally erupted in Thursdays 5-4 come-from-behind win against Colorado with three goals in the third period. Now, it will be up to the Sharks to carry the momentum gained from that final 20 minutes into tonights matchup with struggling Edmonton.

Its something to build off for us, said Torrey Mitchell. We didnt get the start we wanted to, but it was obviously positive coming out in the third like that.

"I think we need to carry over that type of play; that dire need to finish and win games, said Andrew Desjardins.

Coach Todd McLellan is also hopeful that the team is starting to regain its confidence, one player at a time.

For me, confidence is feeling good about yourself first, about the team and the game that youre playing. We dont have enough players that can honestly say that right now, said McLellan. Were gaining more back. I would say that were coming out of it. As we build on that a little bit more we should feel better about ourselves, and our game should improve.

The Sharks, who had an optional morning skate on Saturday, will be looking for back-to-back wins for the first time since Nov. 20-23, as they are 3-5-2 in their last 10.

First look at Oilers: Edmonton is just 2-6-1 in its last nine games, including four regulation losses in its last five games. Still, the Oilers have some of the games top young talents in players like rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall.

Nugent-Hopkins, the first overall pick in the 2011 Entry Draft, leads Edmonton with 33 points (13g, 20a), tying him for 14th in the NHL in scoring.

The Sharks have had a bit of trouble with teams that feature speedy, shifty forwards like the Oilers possess. Colorados Matt Duchesne was the Avalanches best player in the two games this week, for example.

Smaller players, you need to close on them quick and not give them space to spin and turn guys like Duchesne and Brian Gionta on Montreal, said Mitchell. They are really dangerous. Bigger bodies tend to slow the play down a little bit and those guys are fast and dynamic.

Keeping the puck out of the net has been a problem for Edmonton, though, after it was a strength early on. The Oilers have allowed 61 goals in their last 17 games, after allowing just 23 through their first 14.

The Sharks visit Rexall Place on Jan. 23.

Win the special teams battle: Its become a theme over the last two weeks, but the Sharks' failure to win the special teams battle has been costing them points in the standings.

In the last seven games, San Jose has just two power play goals (2-for-21). Over that same stretch, the Sharks have killed off just 13 of 21 opponent man advantages.

McLellan notes that the Sharks last four losses have come by a margin of just one goal, making their special teams woes all the more glaring.

Your power play or penalty kill in that situation can make a huge, huge difference, and it didnt in those games, he said. Thats the difference between winning and losing. The penalty kill is a huge, huge factor in our games right now.

The Sharks havent won outright the special teams battle since Nov. 23, when they scored one power play goal against Chicago and killed off all four Blackhawks power plays in a 1-0 win.

Niemi again: Sharks goalie Antti Niemi (12-6-3, 2.41 GAA, .916 SP) will make his 11th start in the last 12 games when he plays against the Oilers tonight.

McLellan isnt worried about his goaltenders heavy workload.

Our schedule has been fairly friendly when you look at it compared to some other teams, other than this stretch of seven in 11. He didnt have training camp and an early start to the season, said the coach, referring to Niemi's September surgery to remove a cyst on his leg.

At this point in the season, Im not worried about his workload one bit. In fact, I think much like last year, hes getting better as we play him more.

Nikolai Khabibulin (10-6-3, 1.95 GAA, .933 SP) is expected to be in net for the Oilers after missing the last two games.

In 34 career appearances against the Sharks, the 39-year-old is 17-11-2-2 with a 2.48 goals-against average.
Lines the same: The Sharks will keep their lines the same as they were in Thursdays win over Colorado. That is, Joe Thornton will play with Torrey Mitchell and Joe Pavelski; Logan Couture will skate with Ryane Clowe and Patrick Marleau; while Michal Handzus will center Marty Havlat and Jamie McGinn. The fourth line remains the same, as well.

Mitchell spoke about his new linemates on Saturday morning.

Obviously those two guys Im with are a little more dynamic offensively. Its more of an opportunity to get points, but no different from my mindset, he said.

Eleven Sharks tallied at least one point on Thursday.

Odds and ends: The Sharks lead the NHL in shots per game (34.1) while the Oilers are 29th in the league (26.2). Douglas Murray and Jim Vandermeer remain on injured reserve. Edmontons Taylor Hall returned from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for three weeks on Thursday in Phoenix, a 4-2 loss for the Oilers.

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.