Barracuda forwards may be ready to join Sharks soon

Barracuda forwards may be ready to join Sharks soon

SAN JOSE – For the first time this season, the Sharks plucked a player from their AHL affiliate and plugged him into an NHL game. Kevin Labanc made a good account of himself in the 3-0 win in Washington on Tuesday, looking comfortable on the second line while registering one shot on goal and a plus-one rating in 13:23 of ice time in his NHL debut.

Some of his new NHL teammates may have noticed that Labanc got more five-on-five ice time than any of the forwards other than the top line of Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Joel Ward.

With the Sharks still struggling to score goals – they are 27th in the NHL with 2.31 per game – some of the forwards that are off to slow starts may need to keep an eye on more than Labanc. Several Barracuda forwards could be ready to break through at some point this season.

“I think [in] all my years coaching, it’s probably the fastest and the most talented [team],” said Barracuda coach Roy Sommer, now in his 19th season as the head coach of the Sharks’ primary AHL affiliate. 

The forward group looks especially strong, as the Barracuda (3-2-0-1) have scored 22 goals in six games for a 3.67 average.

So, who could be the next recall? There are some candidates.

Former first round pick Nikolay Goldobin is off to an equally strong start as Labanc, at least on paper, with 10 points in six games. Goldobin has potted two goals and eight assists and has a plus-four rating.

“Goldie is playing the best hockey he’s played since I’ve had him,” Sommer said.

Goldobin got nine games of NHL experience early last season, scoring one goal and one assist, but it was evident that he wasn’t ready for full time duty just yet. He needed to work on his compete level and his defensive game.

Asked what he learned last season, he said: “Every game you have to play hard. If you play one game bad, you’re not going to play next game. … Just compete and do the little details. I think I’m playmaking, and the D-zone is pretty good for me.”

Timo Meier might be on the Sharks already had it not been for his bout with mononucleosis in training camp. The ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft said he’s back to 100 percent physically after losing weight and muscle from his month-long illness, but after four games with the Barracuda, he indicated that he’s still getting used to the AHL pace.

“Starting to feel more comfortable out there, just trying to build confidence and trying to stay positive,” Meier said. “It’s obviously hard in the beginning, a little frustrating, but that’s part of the game.”

Sommer, too, made it clear that Meier still has some work to do before he gets considered for the Sharks, pointing out that the 20-year-old didn’t get the benefit of playing in any NHL preseason games like Labanc, Goldobin and others did. Meier only made his Barracuda debut on Oct. 28.

“He’s just has to simplify his game,” Sommer said. “I think he’s just trying to do too much. He’s got to be north-south, and [forget] this circling and trying to put pucks through people. … It’s not going to work.”

“He’s a thoroughbred. He’s just got to calm down a little bit. When he gets the puck, [just] have a little bit more patience and not try to make a play that’s not there.”

Barclay Goodrow nearly made the team out of training camp, and Sharks coach Pete DeBoer was very complimentary of the 23-year-old that has played 74 career NHL games the past two seasons. It’s likely he’ll play at least a few NHL games this year, probably more in a bottom six role. He has two goals so far with the Barracuda, after earning AHL All-Star honors last season with 39 points (20g, 19a) in 57 games.

“[DeBoer] had good things to say when I got sent down after training camp,” Goodrow said. “You’ve just got to keep getting better, and keep grinding away, and make sure your game is in tip-top [shape] if you do get the call. You don’t want to get called up and not make the most of it.”

As one of the oldest teams in the NHL, the Sharks know they’ll have to start transitioning to a younger roster sooner than later. Sommer believes the organization is in a good position to do that. Along with the players already mentioned, he also mentioned Ryan Carpenter and Danny O'Regan as guys to keep an eye on.

“It’s a deep pool of fast, skilled kids,” Sommer said. “And they’re all young.”

Paul Martin rewarding Peter DeBoer's faith in NHL return


Paul Martin rewarding Peter DeBoer's faith in NHL return

When Sharks defenseman Paul Martin confirmed reports in January that he was willing to go elsewhere for more playing time, his head coach was insistent that the team would need the veteran blueliner. 

"I really believe we need eight NHL defenseman here," DeBoer told reporters in January (via The Mercury News). "If it happens that he isn't here, then that'll be disappointing for us. I'm not hoping that's where this goes. I'm hoping this goes to a place where he can maybe go down, play some games and keep himself ready, because I know we're going to need eight defensemen."

That's pretty much exactly what's happened.

After clearing waivers in January and playing with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda, Martin was called up ahead of the Sharks' four-game road trip at the end of February. He did not play until last Saturday in Vancouver, when an upper-body injury to rookie defenseman Joakim Ryan, whose play pushed Martin down the depth chart in the first place, created an opening alongside Brent Burns. 

Martin's now played three straight games with Burns, his defensive partner for the vast majority of the previous two seasons. It's the first time Martin's played in three consecutive NHL games all season, and although he hasn't played much (11:53 in average time-on-ice), he's acquitted himself nicely in a sheltered role.

His five-on-five possession numbers (52.78 percent corsi-for; 53.33 percent fenwick-for) are the second-best marks among Sharks defensemen over the last three games. Burns, too, has posted better possession numbers with Martin (47.62 percent corsi-for; 50 percent fenwick-for) during the last three contests than without his longtime partner (43.40 percent corsi-for; 41.67 percent fenwick-for). 

The Sharks have also outscored (3-0) and outchanced (17-16) opponents with Martin on the ice, neither of which was the case in Martin's first three appearances earlier this season. The former is owed to a decent amount of puck luck, as the Sharks have converted on 17.65 percent of their shots with him on the ice, but the latter is an extension of his solid underlying numbers. 

Martin's played the least amount of total minutes among Sharks defensemen since coming back, even as Marc-Edouard Vlasic missed time in two of the last three games, and has barely been used in special teams. His days of averaging 20-or-more minutes a night are likely behind him, but the 37-year-old has played well in a limited role. 

Considering Martin's NHL days appeared to be behind him as recently as last month, his play has been a pleasant surprise. With the exception of his head coach, that is. 

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights


SAN JOSE -- Seconds after almost costing the San Jose Sharks a game with a turnover, Logan Couture ended it with his backhand.

Couture scored 39 seconds into overtime after getting bailed out by goalie Martin Jones and the San Jose Sharks won their season-high sixth straight game, 2-1 over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night.

"I was able to make a move on their guy," Couture said. "(Marc-Edouard Vlasic) did a good job of driving their backchecker back and I was able to go far side."

Couture's goal came at the end of an opening shift of the overtime that started with him losing the puck in his own zone, giving Jonathan Marchessault a chance alone in front. Jones got enough of the shot to stop it, and then Vlasic sent the puck ahead to Couture for the winning goal that moved San Jose within seven points of first-place Vegas with eight games remaining in the regular season.

Brent Burns also scored and Jones made 24 saves to help the Sharks open a four-point lead over third-place Los Angeles in the Pacific Division with a game in hand as the Sharks close in on home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

"For us to get a win tonight was important," captain Joe Pavelski said. "Plus, just plant that seed. If we stay hot, you never know, we might be able to catch them and get home ice. We took care of business tonight and we'll try to keep playing well."

Tomas Tatar scored the lone goal for the Golden Knights, who were kept in the game by a sterling performance by goalie Malcolm Subban. He stopped 42 shots but it wasn't enough for Vegas to come up with the win, although he helped earn a point that gave the expansion team 100 this season.

"It's impressive," forward James Neal said. "It's a great season for our guys. Guys came together real quick. A great job so far but we're not done yet."

The Golden Knights struck first on a pretty passing play early in the first period that ended when Marchessault found Tatar cutting through the slot ahead of Justin Braun. Tatar skated past Jones and backhanded the puck into the open net.

Vegas has been dominant when getting off to a lead, posting an NHL-best 31-5-1 record when scoring first heading into this game. But the Sharks carried the play in the second period, outshooting the Golden Knights 18-4 and getting the equalizer on a blast by Burns from the point after another strong shift by San Jose's fourth line.

"We want to be playing really good hockey this time of year and heading into the playoffs. I think that's the goal," coach Peter DeBoer said. "Whether we would have won tonight or lost, I like how we played for most of the game, so that's what I'm concentrating on."

Vegas managed to keep it tied despite the lopsided shot totals, killing off a four-minute penalty to Colin Miller and another late power play that started late in the second.

That penalty carried over until the third period and the Sharks got 25 seconds of a two-man advantage after Brayden McNabb was called for throwing his stick but still couldn't get anything past Subban.

The Golden Knights squandered a power-play chance later in the period when Miller was called for cross checking with the man advantage. That nearly led to a power-play goal for San Jose but Subban appeared to get a piece of a shot from in close to Joe Pavelski to keep the game tied at 1.

"He's the main reason we got the point," coach Gerard Gallant said. "He looked comfortable."

NOTES: Vegas G Marc-Andre Fleury didn't make the trip to San Jose with an undisclosed injury but is expected to join the team for Saturday's game in Colorado. ... Burns became the 15th player to play 500 career games with the Sharks.

Golden Knights: Visit Colorado on Saturday.

Sharks: Host Calgary on Saturday.