Sharks-Stars: What to watch for


Sharks-Stars: What to watch for

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Get your night started with Sharks Pregame Live at 7 p.m. followed by the drop of the puck at 7:30, followed by Sharks Postgame Live.

SAN JOSE With NHL realignment on the way next year, the Sharks and Stars wont get as many opportunities to stage their fierce, emotional battles as often as they have over the past few seasons.

There are still five more chances this season, though, including Thursday night at HP Pavilion when Dallas makes its first of three visits.

Every time we play Dallas its a battle, and theres some animosity between the two teams, said Logan Couture. We dont like each other. Thats the way it is.

The first time these teams met on Nov. 19, the Sharks were in the midst of a stretch where they won six of seven, while Dallas entered the game having been shutout in its previous two games. San Jose was 2-for-5 on the power play, and in control for just about the duration of a 4-1 win, which ended with a spirited fight between Ryane Clowe and Krys Barch. Clowe was fined by the NHL the next day for slashing Stephane Robidas, too.

A total of 100 penalty minutes were assessed that night, 53 minutes to the Stars in a game that included three fights and four misconducts.

It was a physical game, some fights -- almost the usual when we play Dallas, said Clowe. A lot of chirping going on out there and a lot of talk. Its always a physical kind of up-tempo game against those guys, and they have a lot of guys that try to get you off your game. You have to stay poised and not get frustrated."

As for Barch, he was traded to Florida just yesterday, so he and Clowe will have to wait until next season to renew acquaintances.

I figured I might run into him or see him again, but it wont be this year, I guess, said Clowe.

The Sharks have lost four of their last five, all in regulation, and havent won a regulation game since Nov. 23 vs. Chicago. They play one more at home tonight before embarking on a three-game road trip this weekend to St. Louis, Chicago and Colorado.

They are just 7-6-1 on home ice, and 3-4-0 against their division.

Tonights a time where we need to start playing better and winning at home, said Couture.

Winchester promoted: Brad Winchester, who has spent essentially the entire season on the teams fourth line, has been bumped up to the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski yesterday and it appears thats the look McLellan will go with tonight.

Winchesters role will be to get to the front of the net while Thornton and Pavelski try to get the puck there.

Just being around the net and creating some space, and just trying to read off the other two guys, said Winchester of what he will be trying to accomplish.

Of course, Winchester can also act as an enforcer of sorts against the Stars, especially considering how the previous game between the two teams ended.

Youre certainly aware of what happened last game, he said. I dont think it necessarily changes our mindset and our game plan, but theres no secret that we want to get off to a great start. Its up to us to establish the energy and initiate, and get in on the forecheck and sustain that throughout the game. Thats going to be our mindset right away.

Patrick Marleau, meanwhile, appears set to play on the third line with Michal Handzus and Jamie McGinn. Lines were unclear at the morning skate, though, which was optional.

Defensive changes: Douglas Murray (right hand) and Jim Vandermeer (upper body) are not available against the Stars, meaning Colin White will be reinserted into the lineup.

McLellan was happier with his clubs defensive effort against Minnesota after a terrible game against the Panthers last Saturday.

Defensively, we were better, he said. We didnt have the obvious turnovers up the middle that we did in the Florida game. So, that was cleaned up a little bit.

More chances on the power play: The Sharks have scored just one power play goal in their last five games, including an 0-for-3 effort against Minnesota. Thats dropped their percentage to seventh in the NHL (19.8 percent).

McLellans theory on why the power play is faltering is because it hasnt had enough opportunities to get in a rhythm. San Jose has had a man advantage just six times in the last three games combined.

I think its a reflection on where some of our players are at individually. Theyre not real sharp right now and theyre not playing to their capabilities, said the coach. You put them out there collectively as a group of five, and you cant turn the switch on.

The other thing is, we havent been earning enough power plays, in my opinion, to get any type of momentum. What leads to the power plays? The intensity and the battle level has to be high enough to draw penalties.

Meanwhile, the penalty kill is still sputtering along at a league worst 74.3 percent.

Odds and ends: Antti Niemi will start in net. The Stars will be without defenseman Mark Fistric, who will be serving the first of a three-game suspension for hitting the Islanders Nino Niederreiter. Dallas is expected to get Trevor Daley (back), Brenden Morrow (back) and Alex Goligoski (thumb) back for the game, according to the Dallas Morning News.

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.