SAN JOSE – If the Sharks are to be without Logan Couture and Joe Thornton at the start of the postseason next week, which sounds like a distinct possibility, they don’t have much time to adapt.
Fortunately on Tuesday night, their first game without both, they were facing the lowly Vancouver Canucks. And even more fortuitously, goalie Martin Jones seems to be finding his game again after a rough patch in a 3-1 Sharks home win that keeps them in the running for home ice in the first round.
San Jose got the start it wanted, even setting a new franchise record for two fastest goals to start a game, as Kevin Labanc and Joel Ward both scored within the first 30 seconds. After that, though, Vancouver actually outplayed the Sharks the rest of the way.
“The start was spot on. That’s the kind of response we wanted,” Joe Pavelski. “You can’t take your foot off the gas, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing right now. You’re trying to build your game, and you don’t want that.”
Despite the Sharks registering 10 of the first 11 shots, Vancouver finished with a 34-25 advantage by the time the final horn sounded.
“We won, that’s about all I can say,” Pete DeBoer said. “I thought we played well the first couple minutes of the game, played well at the end, the last five or six minutes. But in between, there [were] some moments that we weren’t at our best. Obviously, we’ve got to look at why.”
Earlier Tuesday, DeBoer said that the void left by the two injured centers was an opportunity for the team's young players to “make the most of it and make a name for themselves.”
Labanc is surely one of the players to whom the coach is referring. The 21-year-old has been back and forth between the Sharks and Barracuda much of the year, failing to remain the NHL roster but also showing flashes of becoming a real productive scorer, too.
He skated with Pavelski and Melker Karlsson for most of the night, and snapped a 28-game goal drought just 18 seconds into the first period. On the bench, he was spotted throwing an invisible monkey off of his back.
Labanc knows this is another chance to solidify his place on the team.
“You have an opportunity and you have to take it,” he said. “We obviously want to make it as far as we can and get Cooch and Jumbo back in the playoffs, so then we're just that much more [deep]."
Regarding his new line, Pavelski said: “I liked our game early. I liked our game throughout a lot of the game, actually.”
Ward isn’t a young guy, of course, but with just eight goals on the season entering the night, he’s someone else that could pick it up to help mitigate the loss of two of the Sharks’ best players. His slapper from the top of the circle put the Sharks ahead, 2-0, at the 30-second mark.
“[We] have a good mix of older guys and younger guys with the good depth that we have,” Ward said. “That's key for us and it's going to carry us down the stretch here. We're excited. It gives everyone an opportunity to kind of step up and relish the different roles, just to kind of have fun with it. It's a good opportunity for all of us, to be honest.”
Still, not enough players showed up to the coach’s liking. Even without Thornton and Couture, the Sharks should have been able to better handle a Vancouver team that is in a full rebuild at this point.
DeBoer said: “I guess a little disappointment lies in there was an opportunity for some other guys to come in here and really show they could help us fill that void. I thought a lot of guys didn’t seize that opportunity tonight, which is my only disappointment.”
No one was mentioned by name, but Mikkel Boedker, Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier were especially missing in action.
Jones, though, seems to be returning to form after his poor game in Calgary last Friday night. He said he had to make some “minor adjustments” after struggling like the rest of his teammates throughout the Sharks’ stretch of eight losses in nine games.
"You always feel better after you win,” Jones said, “but I don't think I was far off. I don't think I was playing that poorly.”
The team in front of him, though, will have to be better against Edmonton on Thursday in a game that could determine home ice advantage in the first round. The Oilers aren’t the Canucks.
“We need to find a way to not let off the gas and make sure we're playing hard for a full 60 minutes,” Jones said. “That's the only way you're going to win in playoffs."