Notes: DeMelo will play for Sharks soon; Couture battling illness

Notes: DeMelo will play for Sharks soon; Couture battling illness

SAN JOSE – Dylan DeMelo may finally be coming to a San Jose Sharks game near you.

The 23-year-old defenseman, who has yet to play in any of the first six games, will likely make his season debut shortly, coach Pete DeBoer indicated on Monday.

“That’s something we discuss every day,” DeBoer said. “We like him, we’re very comfortable with him. We’d have no problem putting him in. I know Bob [Boughner] has no problem playing him, and not worrying about playing him against anybody out there. It’s a nice luxury to have. 

“We can get to the point where it’s too many games where he’s sitting out. We’re getting close to that. We’re going to have to get him in soon here.”

DeMelo has not played for the Sharks since the final game of the 2015-16 regular season on April 9. He served as the seventh defenseman in the playoffs, but the Sharks dressed the same six blueliners throughout their run to the Stanley Cup Final.

In the preseason, DeMelo – who would have to clear waivers in order to be reassigned to the Barracuda – beat out Mirco Mueller for the seventh job on the Sharks. He signed a two-year contract extension in the offseason.

A former sixth round pick of the club in 2011, DeMelo had a breakthrough season in 2015-16, playing in 45 games and establishing himself as an NHL defenseman. He finished the season with two goals and two assists for four points and an even rating.

* * *

While the Sharks shook up their forward lines at Monday’s skate, the top power play unit remained the same. Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are still together and will try to work out the kinks to their game.

The Sharks are 3-for-20 on the power play, with just one of those coming on a five-on-four.

“We’re not shooting the puck enough, that’s the big thing,” Couture said. “We’ve got to shoot the puck, get traffic. We always have a guy in front of the net and we’ve been getting away from that.”

* * *

Couture has managed five points (2g, 3a) through the first six games, all while battling a persistent cold that he just can’t shake. It’s obvious he’s dealing with some sort of sinus issue when hearing him speak the past few days.

“It’s like a month, it won’t go away,” Couture said. “It’s crazy.”

* * *

Breaking with standard practice, the Sharks opted to stay in Detroit the night after Saturday’s game, rather than immediately flying home on the team charter.

The Sharks were a miserable 1-8-1 in their first home game after a multiple-game road trip last regular season, with their lone win coming against Edmonton in a shootout, so DeBoer figured he would try something different this year.

“When we sat down in the summer and looked at areas to improve, our record coming back from road trips was not good last year,” he said. “We looked at opponents when we came back, our travel schedule. We’re just looking for answers to fix some of the areas that maybe we weren’t real good at last year.”

Sharks shuffle up their lines ahead of homestand

Sharks shuffle up their lines ahead of homestand

SAN JOSE – When the Sharks signed free agent forward Mikkel Boedker in the summer, head coach Pete DeBoer immediately pictured him on a line with Logan Couture and Joonas Donskoi, saying a couple weeks ago that it looked good when he wrote it down “on a napkin.”

DeBoer apparently went through a few more napkins on the flight home from Detroit on Sunday, a 3-0 shutout loss to the Red Wings on Saturday surely on his mind.

The Sharks resumed practice on Monday with four entirely new lines, including Boedker up with the Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Couture centered Donskoi and Joel Ward, while Tomas Hertl was in the middle of the third line with Patrick Marleau and Matt Nieto. Chris Tierney skated as fourth line center with the remaining wingers.

“It’s not a panic situation or anything, I think you’re always looking for ways to get the most out of your group,” DeBoer said. “Our four-line game hasn’t been where I want it to be.”

Getting more out of Boedker is apparently part of the motivation for shuffling things up, as the newcomer has just four shots on goal through six games, with one point (a goal against Columbus on Oct. 15).

Playing with Thornton and Pavelski could help in that regard, just as it helped players such as Hertl last season.

“He’s got to shoot the puck more…and he knows that,” DeBoer said of Boedker. “I’m not concerned about him, but the nice thing about playing with those two guys is they push you to go to the areas where you have to score. Hopefully that gets him going.”

Boedker said: “It’s two of the best [players] in the league, so it’s going to be a lot of fun. Just got to listen and do the things they expect me to do, and make sure that I do them to the highest level.”

The line changes spreads out the Sharks’ speed a little more evenly among their scoring lines. They looked slow in losses to Detroit and the Rangers, especially.

“[Boedker] can bring some things to that line that Tomas maybe doesn’t,” DeBoer said. “Tomas has a great skill set, but this guy can back people off with his speed.”

Hertl will skate at center for the first time since early last January, although he saw plenty of time there in training camp when Thornton and Couture were competing in the World Cup. Last season, he had 15 points (4g, 11a) in 37 games before moving to the Thornton line full time on Jan. 9, where he took off.

The 22-year-old has three points (2g, 1a) in six games this season as a left wing.

“I think Hertl can play anywhere,” DeBoer said. “His game is at that point in his career and he’s a good enough player now that not only can he play anywhere, but I think he can make other people better around him.”

While the line changes will give the Sharks a new look on paper, Couture believes the bigger issue with the team – going back to the third period of Thursday’s 3-2 loss in Pittsburgh – is its compete level. 

“It’s compete and battle and playing the right way that we need to worry about,” he said. “We didn’t play well in Detroit, there’s no way around that. … We just didn’t compete, [and] that’s a frustrating thing, but it’s an easy thing to fix.”

The head coach echoed Couture’s estimation.

DeBoer said: “We have to realize how desperate a team we were last year every night, and the teams that we’re playing are out to hunt us based on our success last year. If we don’t have that desperation level, it’s going to be tough to win.”

The Sharks open a three-game homestand on Tuesday against Anaheim, and host the Blue Jackets and Predators later this week.

Analysis: Sharks' uneven start to season predictable

Analysis: Sharks' uneven start to season predictable

With just four periods left to go on their road trip, the Sharks were in pretty optimal shape. They had already won three of their first four games, and were sitting in the visiting dressing room in Pittsburgh in the second intermission with a 2-0 lead after their best period of the young season.

That’s when it came undone. 

The Penguins reeled off three straight third period goals to shock San Jose on Thursday night, and the Sharks concluded their trip by getting spanked by the Red Wings in a game that they were never really in on Saturday.

Still, it’s nothing to get alarmed about, and it was all too predictable that the Sharks might fade towards the end of the journey.

This year’s training camp, combined with a difficult road stretch so early in the season, has provided the kinds of hardships that aren’t typical in a normal season. The Sharks had a league-high five players in the World Cup of Hockey, including four on Team Canada and newcomer Mikkel Boedker on Team Europe. Those players didn’t even step on the practice ice in San Jose until Oct. 4, one week before the opener, and Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Joe Pavelski all played in just a single preseason game.

The Sharks got to open at home on Oct. 12, and played well in beating the Kings, 2-1. They’ve held just one full practice since then on Oct. 13, before getting on a plane to Columbus the next day to begin a stretch of five games in eight days while trying to adjust to the three-hour time change.

Pretty rough.

Head coach Pete DeBoer knows he has some work to do with his group, but he subtlety pointed out that conditions have made things a bit more complicated than usual. He’s right. In fact, before the Sharks lost to the Red Wings, DeBoer was content with the way the Sharks had performed to that point.

“Considering the circumstances, five of six to start the season on the road, and the World Cup, and not a lot of practice time – I actually think our game is in a pretty good place, in my mind,” he said after the morning skate. “We obviously have some things still to clean up, but overall I’m not disappointed with how we’re playing. Just got to keep improving.”

The Red Wings, game, though, was a stinker, and an argument can be made that the Sharks should have practiced on Friday. The result against Detroit is obviously exhibit 1A of that. After all, their plane landed in Detroit from Pittsburgh at 12:03 a.m. according to the flight log, giving the players plenty of time to sleep in their hotel beds before the day off. But as he’s almost always done since he took over the Sharks, DeBoer preferred to let his players relax. It was a rare miscalculation.

When they resume practice Monday morning, the power play will likely be a focal point. The Sharks have seemingly given up as many shorthanded chances as they’ve had chances to score themselves while up a man. They are 3-for-20 on the season, including an empty net goal and another on a two-man advantage.

DeBoer, though, indicated he’s going to give that familiar top unit a chance to work out its issues. That’s the right move, as that group simply hasn’t had any time to work together in non-game situations for the reasons already mentioned.

“When you look at the history of the group, I don’t have any doubt they’re going to have success,” DeBoer said. “There’s no doubt it hasn’t started the way we wanted. The puck hasn’t gone in and we’re pressing a little bit now, but that will turn around.”

Along with buttoning up their overall game, the Sharks will now turn to establishing their home ice as an actual advantage this season. At 18-20-3 last year, they had the worst home record of any team that made the playoffs.

Their first game was encouraging in that they played a complete game from start to finish against the Kings, and the atmosphere was decidedly playoff-like. Considering San Jose was a much better 8-4 at home in the playoffs, there’s reason to believe they will be much better there this season in front of a fan base that has some renewed enthusiasm that was lacking this time last year.

When it’s a packed house, SAP Center is still one of the loudest and most intimidating buildings in the league.

“The first game was a little season preview hopefully of what the whole year is going to be like – the crowd, the atmosphere there,” Chris Tierney said. You really saw in the playoffs how cool that building can get and how much of an advantage it can be. Really looking forward to getting back home.”

Logan Couture said: “We haven’t played very well throughout our first six games, so we’ve got to find it here soon.”

Coming home, practicing, and acclimating themselves to a much more normal day-to-day routine again should provide a needed boost.