Sharks-Oilers: What to watch for

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Sharks-Oilers: What to watch for

SAN JOSE Sharks coach Todd McLellan is set to return to the bench for tonights game at HP Pavilion against the Edmonton Oilers. McLellan has missed the last three games with a concussion suffered last Sunday against Minnesota.

Im going to go on the bench, give the bench my full attention, and Ill see how it goes from there, he said. I dont know whats going to happen. Im anticipating that Im going to be alert, and Im going to be sharp.

For a team that has lost eight of its last 10 games (2-7-1), it will take any sort of good news it can get as it struggles to maintain its place in the Western Conferences top eight. The Sharks (33-24-7) are in eighth place with 73 points, just one more than Los Angeles and Colorado.

Were letting some games just slip away and not picking up enough points, Logan Couture said. Sitting eighth in the conference with LA right behind us, its going down to the wire. We need to get some sort of points out of almost every game from here until the end of the year.

Its time to make it happen. Were in a position now where every game counts, Ryane Clowe said.

The Sharks are concluding a four-game homestand and will begin a four-game road trip on Thursday in Dallas. The week-long journey continues with stops in Phoenix, Edmonton and Calgary.
Improving D, but searching for O: The Sharks didnt have trouble putting the puck in the net during their brutal nine-game road trip in which they won just twice. The problem was keeping the puck out of their own net, allowing 35 goals over those nine games.

Since returning home, the Sharks have allowed just four goals in three games, but the offense has dried up. San Jose has just two goals, and is a combined 0-for-6 on the power play.

Weve got to earn our goals, and we just havent done that the last three games, Dan Boyle said. Weve gone through these things before and gotten out of it, so weve got to do that again.

McLellan touched on his teams season-long pattern of fixing one area of its game while letting another slide.

Were in repair mode a lot. Were never fully comfortable with what were doing in a certain area of the game. We get our offense going, and the defensive part of the game slips a little bit. We go and repair that, and the offensive zone goes, the coach explained.

Weve been chasing our game all year. Usually when youre doing that, youre not getting enough out of individuals and playing to your capabilities as a team. The responsibility lies on us as coaches to get that out of them, but they also have to bring it night in and night out.

Oilers surging power play: Edmonton (25-34-6, 56 points) enters the game well out of the playoff race, but the Oilers possess the leagues top-ranked power play with a 22.1 percent success rate. The Sharks penalty killing, an issue for most of the season, is 28th in the NHL at just 77.5 percent.

They have a youthful creativity to their game, and that shows through on the power play, McLellan said. Their young players have confidence and courage with the puck, and theyre not afraid to err with it. Sometimes that allows them to be very successful offensively, and we see that in their power play.

In the last seven games, the Sharks have allowed seven power play goals in 25 chances (72.0 percent), including a pair to St. Louis during Saturdays 3-1 home loss.

Newcomers Daniel Winnik, TJ Galiardi and Dominic Moore, acquired specifically to help eat up minutes on the PK, could see more action there tonight. Mondays practice offered the Sharks coaching staff the opportunity to help review the teams system.

Were hoping to get to the point where we could potentially throw a pair of them out together, but they will get some minutes, McLellan said. Hopefully were not penalty-killing and we dont have to worry about that.

Boyle said: When a team is clicking on the power play, youve got to try to stay out of the box as much as you can. Thats one thing we can do.

Lineup changes coming: Expect to see some different faces in the Sharks lineup tonight from Saturdays loss to St. Louis.

Michal Handzus and Andrew Desjardins, both healthy scratches against the Blues, skated on the teams fourth line with Galiardi for Monday's practice. Jason Demers, who also sat against the Blues, looks like hell be coming in for Justin Braun, based on the morning skate.

That leaves Brad Winchester and Benn Ferriero as the odd forwards out.

As for the top three lines, Joe Thornton was with Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau; Couture skated between Clowe and Tommy Wingels; while Dominic Moore centered Winnik and Torrey Mitchell.

And yes, folks, that means Colin White, who has been solid on the current homestand, remains in the lineup.
Odds and ends: Antti Niemi will start in net for San Jose. The Sharks are 1-0-1 against the Oilers this season, with Edmonton winning the most recent game, 2-1 in a shootout, on Jan. 23 at Rexall Place. Edmonton lost 4-2 in Anaheim on Monday night. Jordan Eberle leads the Oilers with 29 goals.

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.

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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.

Power play at the center of Sharks' downfall in 2016-17

Power play at the center of Sharks' downfall in 2016-17

SAN JOSE – There was an NHL coaching casualty on Monday on a team that flamed out in the first round.

No, it wasn’t in San Jose. It was in Chicago, as the Blackhawks fired assistant coach Mike Kitchen, who was in charge of their penalty kill. Chicago, swept by Nashville despite finishing atop the Western Conference, finished 24th on the PK in the regular season.

When it comes to the Sharks’ coaching staff, there’s no doubt that head coach Pete DeBoer will return, but it’s fair to wonder if assistant coach Steve Spott is feeling a little heat right now. The Sharks’ power play, a primary focus of Spott’s, finished just 25th in the NHL this season (16.7 percent) after it was third in the league in 2015-16 (22.5 percent).

When asked if the full Sharks’ coaching staff would return next season, general manager Doug Wilson didn’t offer anything definitive.

“I haven’t sat down with them yet. I think they did an outstanding job,” Wilson said. “You go through the last 12 months with a compressed schedule, very few practices, integrating players. I’m very pleased with their performance.

“I think there are things that they want to do better. We all have to take a look back and be honest, and say since we’re not playing right now, what can we do better? I think that transparency and honesty is a really good part of this group. We’ll do that in the next week.”

And what was Wilson’s perspective of the power play?

“It’s got to be better. [The coaches] will tell you. …  It’s not [always] the percentage or the number, it’s when you score goals. We certainly have the talent, and historically we’ve done very well,” Wilson said.

There was no part of the Sharks’ game during the regular season and in the playoffs that was more baffling and frustrating than it’s performance with a man advantage. Last season’s success seemed to bleed into October as the Sharks were running at a 24.1 percent rate through the first month of the 2016-17 season, but after November 1 and through the end of the season, the power play was a miserable 15.7 percent (34-for-217).

In the playoffs the Sharks were a more respectable 5-for-28, but even DeBoer called that misleading as four of those came in the 7-0 blowout in Game 4. They were 1-for-18 the rest of the series.

DeBoer, as the head coach, took responsibility for that part of the Sharks’ game when asked how much the miserable power play grinded on Spott.

“It grinds on all of us,” he said. “This isn’t about Steve. The power play is not about Steve. The power play is about our whole staff. We sit on all those situations as a group, and I’m the ultimate guy responsible for all those things. 

“I think it ground on all of us. It didn’t give us momentum, it didn’t create momentum even when it wasn’t scoring. That’s what you want your power play to do, is at least give you some momentum that you’re feeling good coming out of it. We didn’t get that, so that’s something that’s right at the top of our list.”

One baffling aspect of the power play is that the coaching staff hardly ever tried anything different with its units unless it was forced into it due to injury. Patrick Marleau was bumped from the top unit for a brief stretch in the middle of the season, but it didn’t last very long.

The second unit generated just seven goals in the 82-game season, and none after Feb. 2 other than rookie Danny O’Regan’s score in the final game when several Sharks regulars were resting.

One argument regarding the top unit is that it simply became too predictable. Joe Thornton could be counted on to pass, Brent Burns was going to shoot any chance he got, and Joe Pavelski would be hovering somewhere around the slot looking for a deflection.

Pavelski said: “There were times where maybe we rushed it, forced a few things. Definitely all year it could have been a little better, a little more of our identity and what it has been in the past. So, that’s on us as players.”

DeBoer said: “I think we got a little stagnant. I don’t think we had as much motion as we usually have and as much movement, and that comes with some confidence. You lose confidence, you tend to stand still. That’s something that we’ve got to get back.”