Sharks

Sharks counting on three prospects to fill Marleau void

Sharks counting on three prospects to fill Marleau void

SAN JOSE – There are nearly three full months between now and the start of the 2017-18 Sharks season, when San Jose hosts Philadelphia at SAP Center on Oct. 4. That leaves plenty of time for Sharks general manager Doug Wilson to try and fill the void left by Patrick Marleau, who signed a three-year contract with Toronto on Sunday, concluding his 19-year run with the organization.

Whether Wilson tries to sign ink of the remaining free agent forwards or attempts to make a trade could depend on how confident he and the other members of the Sharks’ brain trust are in the young players in the system. They will all have a better idea of their NHL-readiness after this week, as the annual prospects camp concludes on Friday.

The two forwards at camp with the best chance of making an impact would seem to be Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc, who both spent long stretches with the NHL club as rookies last season with mixed results. The opening is there for at least one of them – along with Marcus Sorensen, who is not in camp – to try and make up some of Marleau’s 27 goals last season.

“It’s hard not to kind of pay attention (to Marleau leaving) because you see it all over social media,” Labanc said. “It’s just kind of blown up. You don’t really want to think about it too much. You just want to stick to your game. … You’ve got to take advantage of the opportunities that are open.”

Meier said: “Whatever happens, my goal stays the same. There might be some more openings, or less openings, but for me I just want to make the team. Obviously something like that, such a great player leaving – [but] I think it’s a great chance for young players to step up.”

It was this time last year when Meier, 20, was thought to have an inside track on making the opening night roster. In training camp, though, he came down with mononucleosis, and didn’t make his NHL debut until Dec. 16 in Montreal.

“It was tough. I felt it over the whole season,” Meier said.

Although he scored a goal in his first game at Bell Centre, it wasn’t all smooth sailing from there. Meier was reassigned to the AHL Barracuda for a stretch in February and March, and finished with a disappointing three goals and three assists for six points in 34 games.

While Meier registered an impressive 85 shots on goal (2.5 per game), Sharks coach Pete DeBoer indicated during the season that Meier’s shot selection needed some improvement. 

Meier said: “This season I didn’t score a lot of goals in the NHL, but I know if I keep working hard and get some chances and maybe be smarter about the shots I take, maybe more quality shots, and when I get the chance, put it in the net.”

Labanc, 21, found success with the Sharks quickly, posting seven goals and 12 points in his first 26 career NHL games. But then he went ice cold, going 28 straight games without a goal in between trips to the Barracuda. Unlike Meier, who played in five of the six first round playoff games, he didn’t suit up for the Edmonton series.

Naturally, he’s seeking “a little bit more consistency” this season.

“It was a good learning curve for me,” said Labanc, who was arguably the best player on the ice during the Sharks' prospect scrimmage at SAP Center on Thursday night. “This year I want to make the team, I want to prove myself, and I want to excel in every game that I play in.”

Sharks should be thankful for these two players on Thanksgiving

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Sharks should be thankful for these two players on Thanksgiving

The San Jose Sharks woke up this Thanksgiving and found themselves in a playoff spot, albeit barely. 

They hold the second and final wild card spot by the thinnest of margins, edging out the Colorado Avalanche not on points, games played, regulation and overtime wins, but a single goal in the goal differential column. 

As early as it is, it’s a critical time to be in playoff position. Since the NHL expanded to 30 teams in 2000, 79 percent of teams holding playoff spots on Thanksgiving made the postseason. 

If the Sharks avoid becoming a member of the dreaded 21 percent, they’ll have two players to thank, more than anyone else, for their good fortune: Logan Couture and Martin Jones. 

Couture, along with Joonas Donskoi, seems to be the only Shark unaffected by a team-wide scoring bug. Even as he’s cooled off slightly, his 11 goals are still tied for 10th-most in the league. 

He’s held a positive share of puck possession on the ice, despite starting the fourth-lowest percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone among Sharks forwards that have played at least 50 minutes this season, according to Corsica Hockey

Couture also leads the team in power play scoring with three goals, and is one of only three San Jose players that’s scored multiple times on the man advantage. It’s hard to imagine the league’s fourth-worst power play (15.1 percent) getting worse, but it undoubtedly would be without the 28-year-old.

While Couture has stood out among a hapless offense, Jones has led one of the league’s best defensive units. The Sharks are among the best teams at limiting shots and scoring chances across all situations, but Jones has not let them down. 

Although his .922 even-strength save percentage is 27th among 51 goalies that have played at least 200 minutes, San Jose’s given him a razor thin margin of error. He had the fifth-lowest goal support of any goalie entering last night, as statistician Darin Stephens noted, and his play has been good enough to keep the Sharks in games in spite of that. 

Jones has also led the way for the league’s best penalty kill, posting a .940 save percentage in shorthanded situations. That’s the best mark among goalies that have faced at least 80 shots on the penalty kill, according to Stephens.

The sustainability of Jones’ penalty kill dominance and Couture’s 20.8 shooting percentage is an open question, but their importance to the team early in the season cannot be overstated. They’ve helped keep the Sharks afloat, and in a playoff spot with history on their side at the critical Thanksgiving mark. 

The Sharks need to not only let them have extra helpings during their holiday feast, but find a way to give them more help on the ice too.

 

Jones strong in goal, contains Coyotes to snap Sharks' three-game skid

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Jones strong in goal, contains Coyotes to snap Sharks' three-game skid

BOX SCORE

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Logan Couture scored another goal for San Jose but was happier to see the Sharks' top line get untracked.

"We've got to get those guys going to help us offensively," Couture said of teammates Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Timo Meier after the Sharks' 3-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday night. "We need them to produce."

Thornton opened the scoring for the Sharks, with Pavelski adding an assist, the pair's first points since November 8, a span of five games.

"I think with Timo with us last game it brought us a lot of energy and a lot of chances," said Thornton, who scored his first goal since October 26. "Me and Pavs really like playing with him."

Joel Ward added an empty-net goal with 47.8 to play for the Sharks, who snapped a three-game losing streak.

"We got enough offense to win," said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer. "That's all that matters. I thought we played a good road game. I don't care how it looks."

Brendan Perlini scored with 7:37 to go, ruining Sharks goalie Martin Jones' bid for his second shutout of the season. The Coyotes saw their season-high three-game winning streak snapped and lost for the eighth time in nine home games (1-7-1).

Jones finished with 26 saves.

"We defended really well," said Jones, who was tested seriously only twice in the first two periods. "The first 10 minutes they had a lot of jump and were buzzing around our zone, but after that not as much."

Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta left at 14:37 of the first period with an upper-body injury. Couture had collided with Raanta more than four minutes earlier, earning an interference penalty. Raanta skated to the bench during a stoppage in play and retreated to the locker room.

Scott Wedgewood took Raanta's place and was in net for only five seconds before the Sharks broke through. Wedgewood stopped Brent Burns' long shot from the top of the right circle even after it deflected off San Jose right wing Timo Meier. But the rebound kicked to the bottom of the right circle, where Thornton swept in and beat the goalie with a quick wrist shot.

"He (coach Rick Tocchet) looked at me and said go," Wedgewood. "I was like, alright. That's the tough part. Then shot, top, goal. That was tough."

San Jose made it 2-0 at 4:56 of the second, taking advantage of Arizona's inability to clear the zone while the Sharks were on a line change.

Justin Braun fought three Coyotes for the puck along the right boards before Joonas Donskoi swooped in, skated to the goal line then sent a pass across to Couture. Couture deked Wedgewood to the ice with a forehand fake, then scored on the backhand.

Perlini cut the lead to 2-1 when he redirected Derek Stepan's shot from the top of the right circle past Jones.

"We had some costly mistakes," Perlini said. "We got back within a goal but there were too many mistakes."

NOTES: Thornton has 22 goals and 83 points in 82 career games against Arizona. ... The Coyotes, who had played seven of their past eight on the road, opened a three-game homestand. ... Raanta made eight saves before leaving and has stopped 98 of the past 105 shots he's faced. ... Couture's goal was his first in five games.

UP NEXT:

Sharks: visit Las Vegas on Friday

Coyotes: host Los Angeles on Friday.