Sharks-Sabres: What to watch for


Sharks-Sabres: What to watch for

SAN JOSE Its been nearly a month since the San Jose Sharks won back-to-back games. After beating the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday, theyll try and do just that for the first time since Jan. 31-Feb. 2 when they host the Buffalo Sabres tonight at HP Pavilion.

They may have to do it without their leading goal-scorer again, too. Logan Couture appeared on the ice with his teammates when the morning skate began, but came off much earlier than normal. Officially, hes a game-time decision. Couture missed his first game of the year on Tuesday with a lower body injury, believed to be a knee, that he sustained on Sunday in Minnesota.

The Sharks will, however, be getting at least one piece back. Dominic Moore played in just one complete game for the Sharks since he was acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning, and has missed the last four games after blocking a shot in Columbus on Feb. 21.

You come to a new team you want to contribute right away. Its frustrating to not be able to, so Im looking forward to getting back at, Moore said.

Moore is expected to center a third line with Tommy Wingels and TJ Galiardi, with Andrew Desjardins likely coming out of the lineup.

Hes a good option for us to put into our forward group tonight. We look forward to seeing him play, said Jay Woodcroft, once again filling in for an injured Todd McLellan.

Defenseman Douglas Murray (fractured Adams apple) remains out.

New shutdown line? With Daniel Winnik in the fold, he, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski did an admirable job on Tuesday shutting down one of the most dynamic players in the NHL in the Flyers Claude Giroux. Philadelphia entered the game as the highest scoring team in the league, but left with a zero on the board in a 1-0 defeat.

Its a safe assumption that the new linemates will be on the ice against Buffalos Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy and Jason Pominville as the Sharks will get their desired matchups at home.

All three of those guys bring a lot to the table. Its not just offense, Woodcroft said. Pav is a real ethereal-type intelligent player that can play both ends. Patty obviously is a horse in the middle, and can wear other teams out with his speed and his size through the middle. With Winnik, hes a big body, checking type guy that when were controlling the puck in the offensive zone, its to our advantage.

Last game, that was one of those things we talked about before the game, was to play those guys hard, Marleau said of the matchup with Philly. I think everybody as a team did a good job, and played well defensively.

Goalie matchup: Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller made 43 saves in a 2-0 win over Anaheim last night, and could get the back-to-back assignment tonight Buffalo seeks to get back into the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Sabres did not skate at HP Pavilion on Thursday morning.

Antti Niemi is in net for the Sharks, and will be making just his second career appearance against Buffalo. On Dec. 9, 2010, Niemi allowed five goals in a 6-3 Sharks loss.

Miller, who has played in 17 straight games, is 5-1-1 against the Sharks in his career with a 2.24 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. Backup Jonas Enroth has never faced San Jose.
More on the Sabres: Buffalo is 4-0-2 in its last six games, climbing to within five points of eighth place in the East. The Sabres are still in 12th place, though, and a longshot to make it to the postseason.

That doesnt mean they arent dangerous, and have some talented weapons in their lineup.

Moore said: Theyre a very strong defensive team and have one of the best goalies in the league. Weve got to continue to play good defensively and wait for our chances.

They have some dimensions on their back end with guys like Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff. Then up front, they are very skilled, Woodcroft said. They have a good power play and can make you pay for mistakes. Our game management, puck management, controlling our controllables is going to be huge tonight.

McLellan still sidelined: Coach Todd McLellan will remain out of action tonight, still feeling the effects of getting whacked with a stick in the head on Sunday in Minnesota.

Woodcraft and Matt Shaw continue to man the bench, although McLellan is still involved in the game-planning process.

Hes going to come back when he feels comfortable behind the bench, Joe Thornton said. Im sure the lights still give him problems, and the sound. A lot of guys in here have been through concussions and you never know how long theyre going to last. We just hope he gets back quick.

Hes getting better. Thats the primary concern of not only Matt and myself, but the whole organization to get Todd better, Woodcroft said.
Odds and ends: This is the only meeting between the Sharks and Sabres this year. Buffalo has won the last three. Joe Thornton has six goals and 15 assists in his last 15 games, and was named as the Sharks player of the month. Buffalo is 17-6-4-1 all-time against the Sharks. San Jose is 11-4-1 against the Eastern Conference. The Sharks lead the NHL in shots per game with 34.4. Buffalo is 4-1-0 against the Pacific Division, but 12-16-1 on the road.

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.

* * *

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.