Sharks

Five months after taking puck to face, Sharks' Logan Couture 'still pretty sore'

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AP

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.

Hertl's filled a hole on the wing but left another down the middle

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AP

Hertl's filled a hole on the wing but left another down the middle

When the Sharks entered the season, the discussion of who would replace Patrick Marleau as a top-six winger did not center on Tomas Hertl because he was a center. Or, he was at least supposed to be. 

Head coach Peter DeBoer moved Hertl to Logan Couture's game following San Jose's second straight loss to start the season. That's where he's remained since, and where he'll play yet again Tuesday night when the Sharks host the Winnipeg Jets at SAP Center. 

Back on the wing, Hertl's on pace for his best offensive season since his rookie year. He's not scored any between-the-legs goals lately, but is on the second-longest points streak of his career (four games), scoring goals per game (0.28) and points (0.61) at the highest rate of his career, and assisting (0.33) at the highest per-game rate of his career, too. 

At the time of the move, DeBoer told reporters (via The Mercury News) that he, like general manager Doug Wilson, felt "Hertl's going to be a real, real good centerman in this league but that doesn’t mean he can’t help us win a game... [playing] somewhere else.” Hertl helped the Sharks win 26 of their next 44 games, but filling one hole in the lineup created another.

With Hertl playing as a winger, Chris Tierney assumed the role as the team's third-line center, and has played well. He's only two points away from matching his career-high, and is setting career-highs in ice time and his five-on-five possession numbers. 

Tierney was originally slotted as the team's fourth-line center, where the new hole in the lineup lies.

The Sharks tried Ryan Carpenter there for 16 games, but waived him. They tried Danny O'Regan there, but sent the overmatched rookie back to the AHL. 

They're trying Barclay Goodrow there now, and he's been fine. The Sharks possess the puck more with Goodrow on the ice in five-on-five situations than when he's off, albeit slightly, and he's scored five points in 17 games. 

He's been about as good as expected, but San Jose is still reportedly looking elsewhere. The Mercury News' Paul Gackle reported last week that the Sharks are "actively shopping" for a fourth-line center. 

That's a consequence of Hertl's early-season move to the wing, but there would have been a hole on the roster either way. Had Hertl stayed at center, the Sharks would be short a top-six winger.

He didn't, and now they're short a fourth-line center. A stopgap is easier to find there than in Hertl's current position, but the Sharks are just kicking the can down the road. 

Keeping Hertl on the wing long-term would leave San Jose firmly in "John Tavares-or-bust" territory if Joe Thornton leaves or retires at the end of his contract. For now though, the Sharks only have to a worry about a center on the fourth-line instead of the first, and need not stress as much about finding a top-six winger thanks to Hertl's season.

Labanc, Sharks overcoming even strength scoring woes

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USATSI

Labanc, Sharks overcoming even strength scoring woes

Kevin Labanc’s first period goal in the Sharks’ Sunday win over the Ducks certainly didn’t look like it was just his fifth of the season, or only his third since opening night.

The 22-year-old, sprung in alone on a breakaway, sold Anaheim goaltender John Gibson on a fake shot with a leg kick, and snapped the puck past him into the top corner. You know a ‘goal-scorers goal’ when you see it, and you saw it 3:38 into the second period.

Labanc not only broke a 12-game, month-long goalless drought, but picked up his third point in as many games after scoring zero in his previous six. Despite his emergence as a force on the power play, all three points came during five-on-five play.

He’s generated six scoring chances in five-on-five situations in his last three games, according to Natural Stat Trick. That’s as many as Labanc accounted for in the six games preceding this run.

The same can be said about his five-on-five shot attempts (seven) and high-danger chances (two). His six shots on goal in his last three games are just one shy of also matching his five-on-five output over his six games prior.

In those categories, Labanc ranks third, third, and tied for second among Sharks forwards, as well as third in five-on-five scoring chances. He’s also tied with Mikkel Boedker for the forward-lead in five-on-five points over the last three games, despite playing only the eighth-most five-on-five minutes.

As Labanc’s broken out of an extended slump, so have the Sharks. Since returning from the bye week on Jan. 13, San Jose is fifth in five-on-five scoring rate (3.1 goals for/60 minutes), compared to 28th before their bye (1.91).

They’re also 5-1-0 during that time.

The Sharks, much like Labanc, were too reliant upon power play production prior to the NHL-mandated week off. Over half of Labanc’s points came with (at least) a man advantage, and 32 of San Jose’s 108 were scored on the power play.

Since, the second-year forward has only scored five-on-five points, while only five of the Sharks’ 23 goals were power play tallies. The power play’s still converting, but it’s not been the sole driver of San Jose’s offense.

It’s only a six-game sample, but the early five-on-five, post-bye week returns are promising for Labanc and the Sharks. The next step for both is to maintain that pace.

If Labanc and San Jose can, the Sharks may not need to shop for a top-six winger at the trade deadline after all.