NHL Gameday: Sharks conclude season series with biggest rival

NHL Gameday: Sharks conclude season series with biggest rival

Programming note – Sharks-Kings coverage starts today at 7:30 on NBCSN

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 26-16-2, 54 points, 3rd Pacific Division
Kings: 22-18-4, 48 points, 5th Pacific Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***Logan Couture won’t play due to illness, so the Sharks will have three different lines for tonight (see below), leaving only the effective third line intact from Monday’s win over the Jets. 

Ryan Carpenter will center the fourth line, playing in his first NHL game since he scored his first NHL goal on Nov. 30 in Los Angeles, a 4-1 Sharks win.

“Last NHL game I played, [left with] good feelings, and stuff,” said Carpenter, who was promptly reassigned to the Barracuda afterwards. “It’s nice to be back here, hopefully have the same outcome tonight and come away with a win.”

***It was just one week ago when the Sharks were tied with Anaheim atop the Pacific Division in points, with two games in hand on the Ducks. But after dropping consecutive games in regulation against the Flames and Blues, San Jose now finds itself five points behind Anaheim (with three games in hand) and one point behind the Oilers (with two games in hand) despite Monday’s win over the Jets.

They still have a decent cushion on the Kings, up by six points after 44 games apiece, but they’d like nothing more than to put some distance between themselves and a division rival. They failed to do that in Calgary last Wednesday.

“These are all critical games now, we’re at that time of the season,” DeBoer said. “You look at the standings, and we’ve lived it here a little bit the last couple weeks. You start to feel a little comfortable where you’re at, you lose a couple games, and all of a sudden you’re back in the pack. It’s going to be like that from now until the end.”

San Jose is 8-6-2 against the Pacific this season.

***This is the fifth and final game of the season series between the Sharks and Kings, who have split the first four. The Kings have won the previous two meetings, including Jan. 3 at SAP Center, 2-1 in overtime.

This will be the Sharks’ final trip of the regular season to Southern California, as they have just one games left with the Ducks at SAP Center.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Chris Tierney. The Sharks’ third line center posted his first multiple-point game of the season on Monday against Winnipeg, with a goal and an assist. That ended a stretch of just one assist in 13 games for Tierney. The Sharks have surely been looking for a bit more production from the 22-year-old, now in his third season, so perhaps be can build off of his most recent performance.

Kings: Tanner Pearson. The winger has at least one point in eight of his last 12 games, and scored the overtime winner against the Sharks on Jan. 3 at SAP Center. His 13 goals on the season is second on the team only to Jeff Carter’s 23, while his plus-nine rating leads the Kings.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Melker Karlsson – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Kevin Labanc – Patrick Marleau – Mikkel Boedker
Timo Meier – Chris Tierney – Joel Ward
Micheal Haley – Ryan Carpenter – Tommy Wingels

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones (starter)
Aaron Dell

Kings
Marian Gaborik – Anze Kopitar – Trevor Lewis
Tanner Pearson – Jeff Carter – Dustin Brown
Dwight King – Nic Dowd – Devin Setoguchi
Kyle Clifford – Nick Shore – Jordan Nolan

Derek Forbort – Drew Doughty
Jake Muzzin – Alec Martinez
Kevin Gravel – Matt Greene

Peter Budaj
Jeff Zatkoff

INJURIES

Sharks: Logan Couture (illness), Joonas Donskoi (upper body), Dylan DeMelo (broken wrist) and Tomas Hertl (right knee sprain) are out.

Kings: Jonathan Quick (groin) and Tyler Toffoli (lower body) are out.

QUOTEABLE

“I’m trying not to try too much. Just do the little things, keep working hard, have fun out there, and enjoy the process.” – Timo Meier

Logan Couture to miss Sharks-Kings game

Logan Couture to miss Sharks-Kings game

LOS ANGELES – The Sharks will be without second line center Logan Couture when they play the Kings at Staples Center on Wednesday night.

Couture battled through an illness on Monday against the Jets, according to coach Pete DeBoer, but did not make the trip to Southern California.

“Just came down with a little bit of a bug. Played through it last game,” DeBoer said. “Just didn’t feel like, one, he’d be able to play, and two, that we’d travel and expose him to the rest of the group. So he’s at home, and we’ve called up [Ryan] Carpenter and he’ll play.”

When asked if Couture could potentially play against Tampa Bay on Thursday, DeBoer said: “Yeah, I think so. It’s nothing, from my understanding, more than a bug.”

Couture missed the last nine minutes of Monday’s 5-2 win over Winnipeg after blocking a Toby Enstrom shot with his right hand, but DeBoer said his absence was not related to that incident.

In 44 games, Couture has 27 points (14g, 13a). He has not missed a game yet this season.

In his absence, Patrick Marleau centered the second line with wingers Mikkel Boedker and Kevin Labanc at the morning skate, while Melker Karlsson replaced Marleau on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Carpenter will play his first game with the Sharks since Nov. 30, when he scored his first career goal at Staples Center.

Mailbag: Should Sharks trade a d-man for scoring help?

Mailbag: Should Sharks trade a d-man for scoring help?

Tuesday’s practice was canceled, as the Sharks boarded an afternoon charter flight to Los Angeles with the dads in tow for the annual fathers trip. That leaves us some extra time for a mailbag…

Why is no line set over halfway through the season? (Kevin Cocquyt @KevinCocquyt39)

The shuffling up of lines is one of those aspects of the game that I think gets overblown a bit. I can’t put a number on how many times Pete DeBoer has prefaced his reply to a question about the latest line changes with the phrase, “we’re not married to any lines…”

That said, I do think the preference would be to ice a more consistent top six at this point. The fact that they haven’t found a left wing to consistently skate on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski is concerning. On the second line, it remains to be seen if Kevin Labanc can stick with Logan Couture, or if he’ll start to fade a bit in his first NHL season. The other players that started the season on the second line, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker, have been moved all up and down the lineup all season long (more on that below).

Tomas Hertl’s absence has thrown a monkey wrench into all of this, of course. Assuming he gets back next month, there’s still plenty of time to get the lines sorted out for the playoff push. Regardless, though, they are almost always fluid, and keep in mind when DeBoer made a major change to his lines last playoff run – moving Patrick Marleau up to the second line and Chris Tierney to center the third line in the middle of the Nashville series – the Sharks finished off the Predators in the second round and went on to beat the Blues in the Western Conference Final.

So I guess my message here would be, don’t panic all that much at this point. It’s a long season.

Largest surprise and disappointment with the Sharks halfway through the season? There's a lot to pick from on both fronts. (Drew Cormier @DrewCormier)

I’ll give you one obvious and one maybe less obvious for both.

I’ll start with biggest surprise. It has to be Labanc. I know he tore up juniors last season, but this is still a kid who just turned 21 years old and wasn’t a high-round draft pick (sixth round, 2014). I knew the organization was high on him, and I even had him down as a dark horse player to make the team out of camp, but to come up so soon, and play regularly on a top scoring line and score seven goals – more than Donskoi, Boedker, Tierney, Joe Thornton and Joel Ward – is impressive, and, frankly, surprising.

One guy that’s gone under the radar a bit, though, is Brenden Dillon. The 26-year-old defenseman is simply faster and more mobile than he was last season, and he’s really made this defense corps one of the best in the NHL one-through-six. I know the numbers don’t show it, as Dillon has just four assists and a minus-five rating, but he’s a better player than he was last season.

As for disappointment, Boedker remains at the top of that list, even after his hat trick against the Oilers. He just doesn’t seem like the type of player that fits in with this forward group. At this point, I have to think there’s some buyer’s remorse there with Boedker owed $4 million a season through 2019-2020.

But another player that just hasn’t taken that next step so many thought he would is Donskoi. He was downright electrifying on some nights in the playoffs last season, and I thought this season we might see him get to 15-20 goals and 40-50 points. Instead, he’d be on pace for just 28 points in a full 82-game season. I thought he’d be better.

What do you think [Justin] Braun is worth? Can he be used as part of a deal for a top scoring forward? We need extra scoring. (Backhand Shelf @ChrisRivs)

I can understand the concern with the Sharks’ lack of scoring, and that many of their key forwards seem to be underperforming. Perhaps adding a little more scoring punch to their roster at the trade deadline is something that Doug Wilson will explore.

But, I don’t see any way this team will move one of its top four defensemen for a scoring forward. The strength and identity of this team this season has been its defensive structure and its ability to limit the opposition from getting shots and scoring chances in front of goalie Martin Jones. Moving Braun, or any of their other big minute defensemen, just wouldn’t make any sense.

I do, however, expect they’ll lose at least one of their current top six before next season, either through a trade or the expansion draft. That could very well be Braun, who might not get protected. In the meantime, though, they need him on the blue line.