Lucic on banged up Sharks: 'Definitely want to let them know that you’re there'

Lucic on banged up Sharks: 'Definitely want to let them know that you’re there'

EDMONTON – Will they or won’t they?

The question as to whether Logan Couture and Joe Thornton would be ready for Wednesday night’s playoff opener at Rogers Place wasn’t answered by anyone on the Sharks’ side, but Oilers coach Todd McLellan seemed to have a pretty good idea.

“Logan will play for sure. Jumbo, unless they cut his leg off, we’ll see him at some point in the series,” said McLellan, in his second season with the Oilers after seven in San Jose. “He’s an old school guy that will find his way into the series. I don’t know if he’ll play in Game 1, but we plan as if they’re in.”

Both Couture and Thornton skated on Wednesday, and indications remain that Couture will likely play while Thornton is more of a question mark. Couture continues to wear a full cage to protect his injured mouth, while Thornton still looks a bit tentative while dealing with what appears to be a left knee injury.

Asked how he felt, Couture, who has been out since March 25, said: “Felt great. Legs feel good. I feel rested, two-and-a-half weeks of rest. I felt pretty good this morning.”

Thornton, who was injured on April 2, said he would be “upset” if he weren’t in the lineup.

“Felt good. We’ll see tonight,” Thornton said. “You want to play. It’s the best time of year. We’re doing everything we can to play tonight.”

Pete DeBoer said the decision to play rests with Thornton alone.

“Joe is going to make that decision, and nobody else,” DeBoer said. “He’ll tell us – and it’s not just whether he can play, but can he play at a level that he can help us? He knows his body better than anybody, he knows his game better than anybody. When he’s ready to go, he’ll go, and hopefully that’s tonight.”

* * *

It’s no secret in the Oilers’ dressing room, of course, that the Sharks’ top two centers won’t be at 100 percent even if they get into the lineup. Edmonton’s roster features some rugged players that could potentially be a little extra physical against Couture and Thornton.

Milan Lucic is one of them. This is the second straight season the power forward be facing San Jose in the first round, after the Sharks dispatched of Lucic’s Kings in the first round in 2016.

“Whether they’re healthy or not healthy, you try to be physical on guys no matter what,” said Lucic, who had a hat trick against the Sharks in the most recent meeting on April 6. 

“You don’t go out of your way to hurt anyone, but you definitely want to let them know that you’re there. We’re just focused on our game and what we need to do. Just be hard on key guys, whether they’re healthy or unhealthy.”

When Lucic’s quotes were relayed to DeBoer, he said: “We’ve seen that before. We saw the same out of Milan Lucic last year in the first round against L.A. You’ve got to play through that stuff. We expect it, we’ll deal with it like we always have.”

Lucic has a history with Couture, earning a match penalty in the season opener on Oct. 7, 2015 when Couture upended him in the neutral zone and Lucic promptly charged across the ice to let Couture know he didn’t like the hit.

Does he expect Lucic, or others, to come after him a bit?

“I don’t think so,” Couture said. “The goal for any playoff team is to after the other team’s top guys, be physical. The last thing they want to do is take penalties, so I don’t think they’re going to do anything special."

Jones set for big workload down the stretch


Jones set for big workload down the stretch

Sharks goaltender Martin Jones is on pace for the lightest overall workload of his career as a starter. After starting 65 games in his first two seasons in San Jose, Jones can only play a maximum of 62 if he appears in each of the team's 12 remaining games. 

Yet simultaneously, he is also on pace for the largest stretch-run workload of his career. Jones will make his 10th straight start, and 51st overall, Friday night in Calgary. 

Friday will also mark his eighth consecutive start since the trade deadline. Over the last two seasons, Jones made 13 and 14 starts, respectively, from the deadline onwards. 

It's easy to envision Jones far surpassing that workload. Entering Mar. 16 each of the last two years, the Sharks held, respectively, 10-point and 18-point leads over the West's ninth-place team, the closest among the squads on the outside looking in at the postseason. As a result, James Reimer and Aaron Dell spelled Jones for eight and seven starts, respectively, to keep him rested ahead of the postseason. 

This year, San Jose's only three points clear of the ninth-place Anaheim Ducks. There's also only one back-to-back remaining on the post-deadline schedule, compared to five in 2016-17 and two in 2015-16, and 10 of the next 12 games are against teams within four points of a playoff spot. 

Taking all of that into consideration, Jones should pretty easily exceed the mark of 14 post-trade deadline starts he set last season and ultimately start more than 60 games for the third consecutive season, barring injury. 

Should the Sharks clinch a playoff spot, it will be fair to wonder what kind of effect Jones' stretch-run starts will have on his postseason performance. Jones posted a .923 save percentage in San Jose's run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016, and a .935 save percentage in the first round last year after receiving a good amount of time off. 

But the Sharks have to get there first, and it's understandable they will rely on Jones in order to do so. The recently-extended Aaron Dell remains one of the league's better backups, but has come a bit back down to earth this season (.914 save percentage) after earning the role last year (.931). 

Jones, for his part, has handled the increased workload well so far, winning five of nine games and posting a .922 save percentage. How well handles his 10th consecutive start, and any that follow, will have a profound impact on the Sharks' hopes of making the playoffs. 

Potential Donskoi injury the latest in Sharks season full of significant hurdles

Potential Donskoi injury the latest in Sharks season full of significant hurdles

Wednesday night’s overtime win over the Edmonton Oilers mirrored the arc of the Sharks’ season. At the risk of sounding like a beloved corporate cousin, it had everything. 

It was a game that, much like this season, required San Jose to overcome increasingly difficult hurdles. The Sharks fell behind early, then again, then again, only to overcome each successive deficit and win the game in overtime. 

Mix in a failed challenge, timely goaltending, special teams success, a scene-stealing performance from a member of the team’s young core (Tomas Hertl), and you have a winning recipe featuring recurrent ingredients from the season to-date. Of course, that winning recipe has the added potential of a sour aftertaste, as the Sharks saw yet another top-six forward leave the game with a familiar injury. 

This time, it was Joonas Donskoi, who left the game with just under seven minutes remaining in the third period nursing his left shoulder. Donskoi, who suffered two separated shoulders last season, did not return to the game, and head coach Peter DeBoer did not offer an update on his status postgame. 

The timing of Donskoi’s injury is far from ideal for San Jose. Not only is the Finnish forward on pace for his highest-scoring NHL season, but the Sharks are far more productive with him on the ice than when he’s not. 

When Donskoi’s not on the rink, the Sharks attempt 49.15 percent of the five-on-five shots, compared to 55.15 percent when he is on the rink, according to Natural Stat Trick. That relative difference (6.36 percent) is the league’s 17th-best mark among skaters, and is essentially the gap between the Boston Bruins (third in five-on-five corsi-for percentage) and New York Islanders’ (27th) respective puck possession prowess. 

Plus, the Sharks score an additional 0.82 five-on-five goals per 60 minutes when Donskoi’s on the ice this season, which is the best mark on the team behind Evander Kane. In all, San Jose’s just 4-2-2 with Donskoi out of the lineup this season, and 17-11-7 over the last three. 

To make matters worse, the Sharks are just three points clear of missing the postseason entirely with 12 games remaining, and Joe Thornton has yet to return to the ice after injuring his right MCL in late January. San Jose’s had enough depth to mitigate Thornton’s injury, especially following the acquisition of Kane, but can it handle another key injury?

They will not need to answer that question if Donskoi doesn’t miss significant time, and the Sharks have overcome most of the hurdles in their way this season. But if he does, or isn’t himself when he comes back, the Sharks undoubtedly will have another one to clear.