Sharks get 'emotional leader' Thornton back; Couture ditches cage

Sharks get 'emotional leader' Thornton back; Couture ditches cage

SAN JOSE – Joe Thornton almost certainly isn’t at 100 percent. If he were, then he would have been one of the six skaters on the ice in the closing seconds of Sunday’s Game 3 at SAP Center, as the Sharks were desperately seeking the equalizing goal that never came in a 1-0 loss to the Oilers.

Still, Thornton was a welcome addition to the Sharks’ lineup just two weeks after his left knee appeared to bend backwards on April 2 against Vancouver when he collided with the Canucks’ Michael Chaput.

The first period was probably evidence enough that Thornton is, in fact, the heartbeat of the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks played perhaps their most physical first period of the season, getting credit for an incredible (and, yes, generous) 34 hits and dominating the game territorially, even if they couldn’t solve Cam Talbot. 

"I thought he was great. He's our emotional leader in there,” Pete DeBoer said. “A gutsy effort by him. There was just no keeping him out. I thought he came out and had a great game for us for not playing in a while.”

Joe Pavelski said: “It was a nice boost for us, definitely. Coming home, playing in this building, you could feel the excitement, the energy. Having him coming back as well, you could tell. You could feel it in warmups. It was definitely a boost.”

Although the Sharks took Game 1 of their series with the Oilers, they were badly outplayed throughout much of Game 2 in Edmonton. Pavelski commented that the compete level wasn’t where it needed to be.

Getting the outgoing and always chatty Thornton back on the bench offered a surge in that regard.

“It was great having Jumbo back. He’s an emotional leader, he’s a vocal leader,” Couture said. “He’s a guy that, it’s incredible what he plays through. The heart that guy has is pretty unbelievable.”

Thornton, as is typical, didn’t go into much detail about how he felt. He finished with two shots on goal, four shot attempts and two hits in 16:27 of ice time. He took just two faceoffs.

“I felt fine. I felt great. Feel healthy, and ready to go for Game 4 now,” Thornton said.

* * *

In a shocking development, Couture decided to forego the full cage that was protecting his injured mouth with a standard visor. The center had commented numerous times that he was having trouble seeing the puck with the extra facial gear after a deflected puck on March 25 did major damage.

“Figured enough damage has already been done,” said Couture, who will require extensive dental work in the offseason. “If I get hit again, I’m just the unluckiest guy in the world.”

Couture said he got the OK from the Sharks’ medical staff to ditch the cage “about 15 minutes before warm-ups.”

Like Thornton, though, Couture surely isn’t operating at 100 percent. He’s managed one shot on goal in each of the three games in the series.

“I can’t put percentages on how I feel,” he said. “Everyone’s hurt in the playoffs. No one is 100 percent. I’m working my way back into it. I felt better tonight. Obviously would have liked to create some more offense, but I felt pretty good.”

Kane leads Sharks to critical win on four-goal night

Kane leads Sharks to critical win on four-goal night


CALGARY, Alberta -- Evander Kane scored four goals to lead the San Jose Sharks past the Calgary Flames 7-4 on Friday night.

Tomas Hertl had a goal and an assist for the Sharks, who have won three straight and four of five. Kevin Lebanc and Eric Fehr also scored, and Martin Jones made 30 saves.

It was the first NHL hat trick for Kane, acquired from Buffalo just before the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

Micheal Ferland had a goal and an assist for the Flames, who are four points out of a playoff spot. Troy BrouwerMark Jankowski and Johnny Gaudreau also scored for Calgary.

Three nights after stopping all 28 shots he faced against the Oilers, Calgary goalie Mike Smith had a rough outing as he made just 14 saves before being replaced by David Rittich early in the third period. Rittich went on to stop all seven shots he faced in a relief appearance.

The Sharks opened the scoring six minutes into the first period when Kane's wrist shot beat Smith to the glove side.

The Flames pulled even at 16:42 when Brouwer chipped a pass from Curtis Lazar into the top corner behind Jones. Matt Stajan stole the puck from Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon behind the San Jose net to get the play started.

Jankowski took a pass from linemate Garnet Hathaway and wired a shot to the top corner, glove side behind Jones to put Calgary up 2-1 at 2:10 of the second period.

Kane then redirected Dillon's point shot past Smith at 6:29 before Gaudreau cut into the slot and snapped a shot past Jones at 10:16 to put Calgary back up by a goal.

That lead lasted just 1:26 as Lebanc fired a shot from a sharp angle into the top corner past Smith to pull the Sharks into a 3-all tie.

Kane completed his hat trick at 16:32 when he swatted in his own rebound before Hertl poked the puck through Smith's legs with 1:58 remaining before the second intermission.

The Sharks added an insurance goal 62 seconds into the third when Kane redirected a pass from Joe Pavelski past Smith.

Ferland backhanded a shot past Jones to pull Calgary within two goals with 5:35 left in regulation and Rittich on the bench for an extra attacker. Fehr rounded out the scoring with an empty-net goal 1:37 later.

NOTES: Jankowski suited up for the Flames after sitting out Tuesday's 1-0 win over Edmonton. Fellow forward Kris Versteeg returned to Calgary's lineup after missing the past 49 games with a hip injury. ... Gaudreau extended his point streak to six games (three goals, five assists).


Sharks: At the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.

Flames: At the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday.

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.