Sharks-Oilers: What to watch for


Sharks-Oilers: What to watch for

PROGRAMMING ALERT: Sharks Pregame Live begins at 6 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California, with the puck drop at 6:30 p.m., followed by Sharks Postgame Live.

EDMONTON The Sharks have two games remaining before the NHL All-Star break, tonight in Edmonton and Tuesday in Calgary. After losses in three of their last four games, though, their hold on first place in the Pacific Division is down to a single point over the surging Los Angeles Kings, who host Ottawa tonight.

Is it important to still have the top spot in the division when the league takes the week off after Tuesdays action?

Whats important right now is that we dont open up the newspaper and look at where we stand, Todd McLellan said after the morning skate on Monday at Rexall Place. We open up our playbook, and we look at how were playing. Thats the most important thing when it comes down to it.

The Sharks do have four games in hand on the Kings, as the division devolves, so to speak, into a two-team race.

Even so, finishing strong before the break against two clubs out of playoff position, and putting behind a brief stretch of losing hockey, is vital.

It would be nice to win tonight and get some confidence going into Calgary before the break, Joe Thornton said.

Well carry this effort with us over the All-Star break, and when we get back together well still have that same taste in our mouth, McLellan said. Wed prefer it to be on the positive side, theres no doubt about it, but there are two Alberta teams telling their teams the exact same thing. Were going to have to go earn it.

Greiss going: Thomas Greiss will get the call in net tonight, making his third start in the last 10 games. His previous two have been successful, as hes surrendered just one goal in each in a pair of wins over the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets.

Thomas has been able to play and give us some real good games after long breaks, McLellan said. Im not overly concerned with his ability to come in after extended periods. Tonight, we need a good goaltending performance, especially early in the game against a team that Im sure will have a growl and be very hungry. We are very comfortable that he can pitch that for us.

Conversely, regular starter Antti Niemi is enduring a rough patch. Hes surrendered four goals in three of his last four games, going 1-3 over that span. Furthermore, some of the shots that beat him were very stoppable.

Starting Greiss against Edmonton isnt a reflection of Niemis questionable play of late, according to the coach, whose Sharks play again tomorrow night in Calgary.

Its a reflection on Thomas ability to come in and play. His last two games that hes played hes given up one goal against. He has the capability of playing, and you guys drilled me with these questions in December when we werent playing any games, and I said when we get into this busy time we were going to access the goaltenders that we have. Its Thomas opportunity to play.

Greiss faced the Oilers once in his career, more than two years ago a 4-2 win in which he made 27 saves on Jan. 16, 2010. Hes been better on the road this year, too, with a 3-1 record, 1.25 goals-against average and .959 save percentage in four games. At home hes 3-3 with a 2.65 GAA and .900 SP.

Devan Dubnyk will start for Edmonton. Hes 2-2 with a 2.77 GAA and .917 SP in four career games vs. San Jose.
Desjardins continues to impress: Andrew Desjardins recorded his first multiple-point game since opening night in the 4-3 loss to Vancouver on Saturday, with a pair of assists. He took Tommy Wingels spot on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski now that Wingels is out with a left shoulder injury.

Playing with those guys is an honor and a lot of fun, Desjardins said Monday morning. I try not to stray from what I do and what Im here to do and just try to contribute.

I feel comfortable with the puck, and just growing and getting more confident and getting used to the league more. You start to understand the game better and better. I feel pretty good out there, so I just hope it keeps going.

Desjardins is also playing more, taking regular shifts on the penalty kill again. He saw more than 13 minutes of ice time on Saturday for just the third time this season.

When asked if he liked Desjardins game on Saturday, McLellan replied: Yep, or we wouldnt keep using him as much as we are. Very good penalty killer, hes grinding in the corners, and doing what hes supposed to do. He continues to earn a spot in the lineup.

Ornery Oilers: The Oilers have dropped eight of their last nine games as they continue to sink in the overall standings. Edmonton got blown out by Calgary on Saturday, 6-2, and endured a hard practice from coach Tom Renney on Sunday.

Even though theyve been struggling, theyre going to come out hungry tonight and try to beat us, so weve got to be focused, Thornton said.

The Oilers still possess a ton of speed up front, with players like Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, and that will be the biggest challenge for the Sharks defensively.

They are a very quick team and very good transition team, McLellan said.

If you dont manage the puck properly and allow them to get away on you, with outnumbered rushes and give them time and space, they can make you pay.

Odds and ends: The Sharks are 7-1-1 in their last nine games at Edmonton. Their last regulation loss here was March 21, 2010, a 5-1 defeat. The Sharks are 19-9-3 when getting at least 36 shots on goal. They are 11-8-2 when getting 35 or fewer. San Jose has allowed 67 five-on-five goals, the third fewest in the league. San Jose has killed 38 of its last 43 opponent power plays in the last 16 games (88.4 percent). In the last 33 games, the Oilers goalies have allowed 3.44 goals per game. Edmonton is -17 in the third period. The Oilers own the leagues third best power play (21.0 percent).

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.