Sharks

Sharks-Rangers: What to watch for

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Sharks-Rangers: What to watch for

NEW YORK, NY The Sharks set out on their second-longest road trip of the season nearly two weeks ago (yes, there is actually a longer trip in February), with a 1-3 mark and looking for answers. Winning five of the six upcoming games away from home would have sounded pretty sweet at the time.

Not now.

San Jose will try to go a perfect 6-0 when the New York Rangers play host at Madison Square Garden tonight.

Our overall record is not staggering, by any means, for our team, said Douglas Murray after Mondays morning skate. Were more back where we should be, and 6-4 is not good enough for us 7-3 is a lot better.

Day of rest: Most of the Sharks top minute guys stayed away from the rink on Sunday, as McLellan held a limited practice. Despite pulling out a 3-2 overtime win on Saturday against the Islanders, the Sharks didnt appear to have the energy or skating legs as they did, say, the night before in Detroit.

The match against the Islanders was the typical trap game a lesser opponent, towards the end of a long trip on a back-to-back, after beating a top rival the previous night. To their credit, the Sharks managed to pull out the victory anyway.

Tonight, expect a more revived bunch.

We have no excuses headed into tonights game, said Todd McLellan. We should be rested, and have a little more juice than we did on the Island.

It might have been more mental, if anything, said Ryane Clowe of Saturdays game. "For the most part, myself and the guys I talked to, felt pretty good. I thought we skated all right, it was just a little mental after the big win against Detroit and going on back-to-back nights. Mentally, those are the games you have to be ready for, and we were probably not our sharpest, but found a way.

Rangers hungry: The first phase of the Madison Square Garden renovation is complete, but that hasnt helped its tenant. The Rangers dropped their first two at home, and have just three wins in their first nine games.

The Sharks will see a familiar face in a blue sweater as Brad Richards signed with New York after more than three seasons in Dallas. He has three goals and five assists, tying him with Marian Gaborik for the team lead in points.

Hes a great passer and always finds a way to get it to the net, said Jason Demers about Richards. Thats something were going to have to watch. He makes their team go and is the offensive catalyst out there, so we just have to make sure we keep in him check and make sure he doesnt get those other guys going.

The Rangers are more than just two players, of course, cautions McLellan.

They are a character team, I think, he said. As soon as you start focusing on one or two of the individuals, the rest of the crew seems to sting you.

It will be a complete Ranger focus. Each team has their go-to guys and Brad and Gabby would be those two here, but they have a number of other players that Im sure are going to compete extremely hard and can make you pay if youre not aware of them.

Martin Biron is expected to start in net for the Rangers and face Antti Niemi, according to several reports and tweets this morning from New York reporters. Regular starter Henrik Lundqvist was in net for New Yorks last game on Saturday, in which they blew a three-goal third period lead to Ottawa and lost in a shootout, 5-4.

Top heavy: A quick glance at the stat sheet during this road trip tells the obvious: The Sharks offense is being led by its big guns.

Joe Pavelski (9 points) is at the top, but Joe Thornton (7 pts.), Patrick Marleau (6 pts.), Logan Couture (5 pts.), Clowe (5 pts.) and Martin Havlat (5 assists) are all enjoying personal hot streaks.

McLellan was asked if hed like to see his other lines contribute a little more on the scoreboard, and although he would, he still says theyve contributed in other ways.

Id like to see our third and fourth line produce a little bit, but for the most part, they havent been scored on. Theyve been playing their games even, he said. They play hard, have contributed on the checking side and penalty kill side, so I cant complain about their contribution to the team.

Torrey Mitchell, who spends most of his time on the third line, would like to see them put the puck in the net.

Our top two lines have obviously been carrying us for our road trip, he said. Were going to need to step up. Even the fourth line, too.

Odds and ends: Judging by the morning skate, the Sharks will ice the same lineup they used on Saturday, with the only change being Niemi in for Thomas Greiss. This is the only meeting of the season between these two teams.

Five months after taking puck to face, Sharks' Logan Couture 'still pretty sore'

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AP

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

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AP

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.