Three takeaways: Martin impressing on Sharks blue line; finding Nemo

Three takeaways: Martin impressing on Sharks blue line; finding Nemo

SAN JOSE – It took some time for the Sharks to get going, but the end result on Sunday against Dallas was a fairly easy 5-1 win over a disappointing Stars team that will miss out the postseason. The veterans led the way, as we focused on in the game recap, but let’s dig a little deeper in the three takeaways…

1 – Martin finding the scoresheet

On Sunday morning Sharks coach Pete DeBoer was asked about Paul Martin, who rarely makes headlines but whose unassuming game this season has been a huge part of San Jose’s success.

“I think he’s gotten better as the season’s gone on,” DeBoer said of the 36-year-old. “The tougher the grind of the schedule, the more he’s rising to the occasion. I thought [Saturday afternoon] he might have been our best defenseman. That’s great to see. He takes good care of himself, he’s a pro’s pro, and a big part of our group.”

Martin had another notable performance on Sunday, notching a pair of assists on the two most important goals of the evening. He sprung Joe Pavelski on a two-on-one that the captain finished off, and continued a quick passing play from Patrick Marleau to Logan Couture that Joel Ward slammed home early in the second.

He’ll bring a three-game point streak (1g, 3a) into Tuesday’s game against Buffalo.

“The guys have made some good plays on just some pucks that I’ve passed to them, so I think it’s just a coincidence,” Martin said of his scoring uptick.

Pavelski gave his teammate a little more credit than that.

“He’s been up in the play. He’s been really solid with the puck, the way he’s been reading plays,” Pavelski said. “That’s what we know he can do. He’s at a high level right now.”

2 – New second line generates a pair

Ward was promoted to the second line in place of Mikkel Boedker late in the loss to Nashville on Saturday, and remained in that spot against the Stars. The 36-year-old scored his first goal in 10 games early in the second period, after linemate Marleau opened the scoring less than four minutes into the game.

The Sharks would love to get more from Ward, who has shown to be a clutch playoff performer, as the postseason approaches. He has eight goals and 26 points in 66 games, after finishing with 21 goals and 43 points in 79 games last season.

“For me, it’s just trying to get pucks out, get to open areas, help my linemates as much as possible, and just try to do little things and believe in that process,” Ward said. 

“Our team gets chances, so it’s just a matter of when you do, you just try to have some opportunities. I’ve had opportunities, just couldn’t score. Today I got a good pass from Cooch, and fortunate to put one in. If you stay with it and believe in it, you’ll get your opportunities.”

The Couture-Marleau-Boedker line had started together the previous 17 games (other than Feb. 11 in Philadelphia, which Couture missed due to illness).

3 – Finding Nemo, Dallas edition

Perhaps the most memorable event of the night came just after Ward’s goal made it 3-1, when Dallas coach Lindy Ruff wanted to pull Kari Lehtonen for Antti Niemi. The problem was, Niemi was nowhere to be found more than two minutes into the middle frame. Jamie Benn had to come off of the bench and leave the ice to go find the netminder, who entered the game at the next stoppage of play.

Cameras showed the Stars head coach was not too pleased behind the bench at the time, but he was restrained after the game when asked about the delay in the tunnel, where Niemi should have been.

“[The referee] said, ‘you’re going to have to wait until the next shift,’ so it was probably the right call," Ruff told reporters.

Niemi said: “I got the word when they decided [to change goalies], so I don't think it matters. Just a few more steps. Maybe it was better to get a few extra seconds there to get mentally ready.”

On the Sharks bench, Martin indicated they weren’t sure what was happening as Lehtonen floated towards center ice, but was then forced to go back to the crease as the puck was dropped.

“I thought Benn was maybe hurt and getting off the ice,” Martin said. “Usually the goalie is sitting right over there. Obviously he was in the back, so…haven’t seen that before.”

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.

* * *

Joe Thornton had successful surgery on Monday afternoon, NBC Sports California has learned.

According to a source, the damage to Thornton’s MCL was more significant than his ACL. The Sharks are expected to provide an official update on Thornton later on Tuesday.

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 off from the top unit for a brief stretch, 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.”