Sharks

Rangers coach: Thornton should 'just shut up'

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Rangers coach: Thornton should 'just shut up'

NEW YORK -- Joe Thorntons verbal jab at the Rangers is making its way around the blogosphere today, and rightfully so. The term soft isnt one thats tossed around very often in hockey when describing an opponent, and thats what Thornton labeled the Rangers after the Sharks dropped a 5-2 decision on Monday night.

To be honest with you, they were probably the softest team we played against on this road trip. We should have had these two points, Thornton said.

Not surprisingly, neither Todd McLellan nor Rangers coach John Tortorella was eager to further the conversation after the game.

But Tortorella changed his mind on Tuesday morning, and did not mince his words.

"Yeah, it caught me off-guard when it was brought up after the game, Tortorella told the New York Daily News. It surprised me, and Ive never heard a player say that. Joes a heck of a player, but heres a player popping off about our team, and Joe hasnt won a g--damn thing in this league. He could go down as a player, being one of the better players in our league never to win anything. So what he should do is just shut up. It was uncalled for, it was classless, and Ive never had it happen like that before.

McLellan said of Thornton: Thats his opinion. Hes entitled to that.

The Rangers and Sharks do not meet again this season.

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.