No sophomore slump for Couture


No sophomore slump for Couture

SAN JOSE Logan Couture might be a little reluctant to flip the calendar to a new year on Sunday.

After all, the Sharks forward had a memorable 2011. He cemented himself as one of the NHLs top young talents, was a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the leagues rookie of the year, and is currently the Sharks leading goal scorer in his second full season.

Hes scored nine goals in the Sharks last 13 games, and has been the teams most consistent forward.

Hes one of the most competitive guys Ive been around. He wants the puck all the time, Todd McLellan said.

He gets better every day.

It didnt start out too well in October, though. Couture entered the year firmly entrenched on the Sharks second line, after the team moved scorers Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi in the offseason. The pressure was on his shoulder pads to at least repeat the 32-goal, 54-point performance from his rookie year.

In the first five games, Couture managed a meager two assists and no goals.

I talked with Logan in the summer about what he was going to face coming up, McLellan said. The attention he was going to receive, not only locally, but when we travel to other cities and Canada. Also, from there, the preparation that other teams were going to make for him and his line.

I would say, out of the gate, he wasnt quite prepared for it. But, probably four or five games in, he started to evolve and now its been consistent game-in and game-out.

Since then, Couture has had just one stretch where hes failed to go without a goal in four games.

Every player goes through slumps like that, where they dont score a goal in a certain amount of games, Couture said. Mine just happened to be at the start of the year, and things have been pretty consistent as of late.

Coutures linemate for most of his first two years, Ryane Clowe, credits Coutures mental approach to the game as one of the reasons hes been able to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

It was kind of a little but of a test to see how he responded when he went through a slump, and you see, it didnt bother him, Clowe said.

I know first hand how good he is playing with him, and he makes me a better player. Ill admit that right away. Mentally, things roll off his shoulders pretty easily. I know thats easy when youre young, but I think thats just his attitude.

With 16 goals and 27 points in 34 games, and with his production on the upswing, Couture could very well reach the 40-goal plateau this year something only two Sharks have done since the NHL lockout (Jonathan Cheechoo, 56 in 2005-06; Patrick Marleau, 44 in 2009-10).

Coutures not hung up on a number, though.

It would sure be nice. I dont look at it and say I need to score 40 goals this year, but you need to consistently have chances and contribute offensively and well see where I am at the end of the year, he said.

Couture has also reversed an anomaly from his stats last year, in which the majority of his goals came on the road. When he fired a wrist shot past Roberto Luongo in Wednesday nights 3-2 overtime loss to Vancouver, it was his 11th goal at HP Pavilion after just 10 there all of last year.

Last year, I cant explain why I scored so many goals on the road, he said. The other team can get their matchup, where at home we get the matchup that we like.

It doesnt matter where the goals are coming, though, as long as they keep going in for the 22-year old as the calendar turns to January.

Im in one of those streaks right now where the puck seems to be following me around, Couture said. Im getting chances and scoring some goals. Its obviously nice to contribute, and hopefully it can continue.

Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

For just the second time this season, the San Jose Sharks have lost consecutive games.

It’s the first time since the club opened the season 0-2, and were outscored 9-4. San Jose played much better in Thursday’s loss to Florida and Saturday’s defeat at the hands of Boston than they did to start the campaign, but have now been on the wrong side of four goal reviews.

The Sharks have lost each of the last two games by two goals, so there’s an understandable temptation to chalk these losses up to questionable officiating. Yet even if you disregard the notion that the officials got each call right (which they did), it’s one that must be resisted.

Their actual lack of offense, not a perceived lack of good officiating, is the main culprit behind the losing streak.

Timo Meier’s goal on Saturday stands as San Jose’s lone tally on this three-game homestand. It’s not for a lack of trying: The Sharks pumped 72 shots on net in the last two games, but could not solve Roberto Luongo or Anton Khudobin.

You can blame the officiating in San Jose’s last two losses all you want, but a good offensive team would have converted subsequent chances to make up for the goals taken off the board. The Sharks have not been a good offensive team this season, and could not make up for it.

San Jose’s inability to finish chances has been their main weakness all season, but they were still able to win games thanks to their defense and goaltending. The latter’s lapsed at times over the last two games, and the former let them down on Saturday when Aaron Dell allowed three goals on only 20 shots.

But that, as well as the discussion around the recent officiating, only serves to mask the Sharks’ real issue. San Jose just simply cannot score.

They’ve only scored on 7.41 percent of their shots this season, according to Natural Stat Trick, which is the third-worst rate in the league. There’s too much talent on the roster to expect that to continue all season, but the Sharks faltered offensively down the stretch last season, too.

Plus, they’re relying significantly on players on the wrong side of 30. Brent Burns, 32, hasn’t scored a goal, and Joe Pavelski, 33, is on pace to score fewer than 20 goals.

He hasn’t failed to reach that mark in a decade. At some point, it must be asked: are the Sharks just unlucky, or is age catching up to their star players?

The answer is probably a bit of both. How much of a role either factor has played is up for debate, but that either has led to San Jose’s failure to score goals is not.

Poor officiating is easier to diagnose than a poor offense, but it’s the latter, not the former, that’s responsible for the Sharks’ most recent skid.

Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be


Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be

Martin Jones was a Boston Bruin for less than a week.

The “Original Six” franchise acquired Jones from the Los Angeles Kings on June 26, 2015. Four days later, Jones was traded back into the Pacific Division, this time to Northern California.

The Sharks gave up a first round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly for Jones. It seemed like a fairly high price at the time, but it’s one San Jose was happy to pay: No goalie started more games than Jones over the last two seasons, and the team signed him to a five-year extension this summer.

The first Jones trade in 2015 set off a flood of goalie transactions, as five netminders were traded during Jones’ extremely brief Boston tenure. One of those was Anton Khudobin, who will start for the Bruins as Jones backs up Aaron Dell against  his “former team” on Saturday night.

Khudobin was traded from Carolina to Anaheim, where he started seven games before getting sent down to the AHL. He then signed with Boston in 2016, returning to his former club as the Bruins tried to fill the hole that trading Jones left behind entrenched starter Tuukka Rask.

Jones and Khudobin will have taken vastly different paths to their respective creases on Saturday night. The former enters the game as his club’s undisputed franchise goalie, and the latter the unheralded backup.

Naturally then, Khudobin’s been the better goaltender this season.

Among the 46 goalies that have played 200 five-on-five minutes this season, Khudobin’s .962 five-on-five save percentage was the best entering Saturday, according to Corsica.  So, too, is his .954 save percentage off of high-danger shots.

Jones, meanwhile, ranks 27th (.920) and 14th (.833) in those respective categories.

What does it all mean? For one, it’s early in the season, and the fact that Khudobin’s made seven fewer starts undoubtedly plays a role in his superior performance to Jones.

Mainly, it speaks to just how fickle goaltending can be.

The Bruins backup is arguably getting the nod Saturday night because of how bad the man ahead of him has been. Rask, once one of the league’s best goaltenders, has steadily declined over the last three years and reached a new low this season: This year, he’s 40th out of 46 qualifying goalies in five-on-five save percentage.

Jones has demonstrated this, too. He’s stopped a lower percentage of low-and-medium danger shots at even strength than the last two seasons, but has stopped a higher percentage of high-danger shots.

Plus, he’s played behind one of the league’s best penalty-killing teams after playing behind one of its worst last season, and has benefitted from a corresponding bump in his shorthanded save percentage.

So much of what a goalie does is out of their control. Yet who’s playing in front of them, what kind of shots they see, and how often they see those shots all can affect their performance.

Khudobin and Jones are living proof of that this season.