Sharks-Stars: What to watch for


Sharks-Stars: What to watch for

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Sharks Pregame Live begins at 7:00 on CSN California, followed by Sharks-Dallas at 7:30, and Sharks Postgame Live at 10:00.
SAN JOSE Ryane Clowe is back, but Antti Niemi is out. That was the biggest development at Thursdays morning skate at HP Pavilion as the Sharks get set to host the Dallas Stars.

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For Clowe, it will be his first game since missing the last six with a facial fracture. Hes had some run-ins with the physical Stars in the past, but doesnt expect to alter his approach despite the injury.
I dont think it will change my style. I cant be cautious, Clowe said. I wouldnt play if I felt I had to be timid out there. Ill be my normal self, I think.

The rugged winger is expected to return to his normal place on the second line with Logan Couture on one side, Todd McLellan said. That will likely put Patrick Marleau back on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, while Andrew Desjardins can go back to centering the fourth line.

Marleaus goal against the Blue Jackets ended a six-game scoreless streak for the winger.
Life of a backup: Thomas Greiss will get the call in net, and has been outstanding as the Sharks backup goaltender. His goals-against average is now under two (1.98) after holding the Edmonton Oilers to one regulation goal in a 2-1 shootout loss on Jan. 23.

Thats my job description, thats what Im here for, he said of filling in for Niemi, who suffered a minor injury in practice on Wednesday, on short notice.

Hell also get an opportunity to increase the Sharks current opponent scoreless streak of 158:10. San Jose hasnt allowed a goal since Jordan Eberle beat Greiss in the second period of the game against the Oilers, and Niemi shut out Calgary and Columbus in the next two games.

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The Sharks team defense has been outstanding, too.

Nemo had been playing great but also the defense limiting odd-man rushes. The defense has been great, too, Greiss said.

Tyson Sexsmith, recalled from Worcester, will serve as Greiss backup while Antero Niittymaki has been assigned to the Sharks AHL affiliate.

Dallas could go with backup Richard Bachman tonight, after Kari Lehtonen led the Stars to a 6-2 win in Anaheim last night. Bachman played 11 minutes in relief of Andrew Raycroft, who has since been reassigned to the AHL, in the Stars 5-2 loss in San Jose on Dec. 8 without allowing a goal.

Keep the offense rolling: The Sharks had trouble scoring goals in their games leading into the All-Star break, but exploded for six against the Blue Jackets on Tuesday night. Several of them came off of bad turnovers and inept play by last place Columbus, but the Sharks were still able to capitalize on their chances.

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Jamie McGinn, who had a goal and an assist to break a personal five-game scoreless streak, was asked how the Sharks could keep the goals coming against Dallas.

We talked about second and third chance opportunities, and you look at a lot of our goals last game, thats where they came from, McGinn said. I think if we do a good job of getting body position on their defense and getting pucks to the paint and whacking away, theyre bound to go in.

San Jose combined for six goals in their previous four games before equaling that number in one game against the Blue Jackets.

Falling Stars: Dallas led the Pacific Division early in the year, but finds itself on the outside looking in today in terms of playoff position. The Stars (26-21-2) have 54 points, putting them in ninth place in the Western Conference, one point behind eighth place Minnesota.

Prior to a pair of regulation wins against the Ducks in the games immediately preceding and following the All-Star break, the Stars had lost six of seven games (1-5-1), with the lone win coming via a shootout over the Kings on Jan. 12.

Should they lose tonight in regulation to the Sharks, the Stars would be a full 10 points behind San Jose for the Pacific Division lead, and could probably wave goodbye to any chance of winning the division.

Interestingly enough, the Stars have been better against the other Pacific Division clubs. They are 0-2 vs. the Sharks this season, but 9-4-0 against the rest of the division, including a 4-1-0 mark with Anaheim.

The Sharks have won both games with Dallas by a combined 9-3 score, but are just 4-5-0 against the rest of the Pacific with a -1 goal differential and have been shut out three times.

In the two games this season, the teams have combined for 134 penalty minutes, including 100 in a 4-1 Sharks win in Dallas on Nov. 19.

Theyre always hard, physical battles against Dallas. Weve come to expect that, McLellan said.

Its always a chippy game against Dallas, McGinn said. They play us hard and we play them hard. Its good to get our competition level up. I think that really helps the team. We expect the same tonight, and well be battling for every opportunity and every goal.
Odds and ends: Jason Demers was placed on injured reserve with a lower body injury. ... Dallas is 0-7-1 in the second of back-to-back games. Logan Couture has a four-game point streak, with six total in that span (3g, 3a). The Sharks have won their last four games against Dallas, outscoring the Stars 21-6 in the process. Joe Thornton has two goals and six assists in his last four games against Dallas. Hes coming off of a two goal, one assist performance against the Blue Jackets. Stars leading scorer Jamie Benn returned last night after missing the previous five games following an emergency appendectomy.

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.