Sharks

Sharks must fill Marleau void to make another run: 'Guys have got to step up'

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USATSI

Sharks must fill Marleau void to make another run: 'Guys have got to step up'

SAN JOSE -- It's been more than eight years since the San Jose Sharks last played a single game without Patrick Marleau on the ice, much less an entire season.

Marleau's departure from the Sharks to Toronto this offseason is the end of a two-decade era in San Jose. But with most of the same players back that helped San Jose make it to the Stanley Cup Final two seasons ago, the Sharks believe they still have the pieces in place to make another run at a title.

"Guys have got to step up," forward Logan Couture said. "Whether it's someone who had a down year last year who's a veteran or someone that has come up (from the minors) that's going to step into the NHL lineup and produce. We need someone to do that. We have to do it from within. Hopefully, guys will step up."

The Sharks took a step back last season after making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final the previous year before losing to Pittsburgh in six games. A late-season slump followed by key injuries to Couture and Joe Thornton helped lead to a six-game loss in the first round to Edmonton.

Marleau, the team's all-time leading scorer, then took his 27 goals to sign with the Maple Leafs. Instead of looking outside for a replacement, the Sharks are counting on filling that role with a mix of young players from the AHL and veterans who had down years last season.

"Our foundation is being able and being very comfortable in 2-1, 1-0 games. But you have to score in this league," coach Peter DeBoer said. "I don't think we're trying to get blood from a stone. I think we have scoring in here. We got to get it out."

Here are some things to watch this season:

JUMBO'S HEALTH: While Marleau left, Thornton returned at age 38 after signing an $8 million deal. Thornton had seven goals and 43 assists last season for his fewest points in an 82-game season since 1998-99. Thornton missed the final week of the regular season and the first two playoff games with a left knee injury before returning for the final four games of a first-round loss to Edmonton. He then underwent surgery to repair his MCL and ACL after the season but believes he is even stronger this season.

POWERLESS PLAY: For years, San Jose's success depended heavily on a potent power play. With the play-making of Thornton and finishing skills of players like Joe Pavelski and Marleau, opposing teams often feared taking penalties. That changed last year when San Jose ranked 25th in the league at 16.7 percent, too often relying on Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns' big shot from the blue line. The Sharks will need to make some changes with Marleau gone and there could be some other tinkering as well.

"That's a big part of our offense," DeBoer said. "It's always been a weapon here. Two years ago it was a weapon. It was top in the league. We didn't do a lot differently last year from the year before. It didn't work."

BOUNCE BACK SEASONS: The Sharks are counting on rebound years from several players who struggled last season. Tomas Hertl, Joonas Donskoi and Chris Tierney all played major roles in the 2016 Stanley Cup run but didn't back that up last year. Mikkel Boedker was supposed to add speed and another scoring threat to San Jose's attack but was limited to 10 goals and often had his ice time limited because of ineffectiveness.

TIMO TIME: San Jose is also counting on big contributions from several unproven young players, most notably forward Timo Meier, who had three goals in 34 games as a rookie. Kevin Labanc and Danny O'Regan also could provide the kind of offense from young players that helped carry Pittsburgh to the past two championships.

"It's up to them to really push through and break through," Pavelski said. "It's not one night or two nights here or there, it's a consistency thing. When that starts happening then you'll see guys take over on our team."

DOMINANT D: While the Sharks made no major additions this offseason, they did lock up two key pieces by signing goalie Martin Jones to a six-year, $34.5 million extension and shut-down defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to an eight-year, $56 million deal. Burns is also under contract through 2024-25, meaning the Sharks are in good shape on the back end for years. The one hole is on the third pair where David Schlemko left in the expansion draft. Dylan DeMelo will likely fill that role although Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed also could push for time.

Logan Couture is an under-the-radar MVP candidate

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USATSI

Logan Couture is an under-the-radar MVP candidate

After failing to score a point in the first three games of December, Sharks center Logan Couture has caught fire over the last two games. He’s scored four points since Thursday, three of which came in Saturday night’s blowout win over the Ottawa Senators.

There’s reason to believe his streak will reach a third game in Sunday night’s tilt with the Minnesota Wild: Couture’s scored 66 points in 84 career games on the second night of a back-to-back. That includes six in four such games this season, according to STATS.

San Jose has certainly needed that kind of form from Couture, who leads the team in goals (15) points (25), and game-winning goals (3). The 28-year-old has scored or assisted a third of the Sharks’ goals, putting a fifth of them in the back of the net himself.

It’s fairly easy to imagine where the Sharks would be without Couture. An already-anemic offense, the league’s third-worst, would still be sinking amidst the rising tide lifting all boats that is the NHL’s scoring boom.

San Jose, currently holding the third and final divisional playoff spot in the Pacific by a measly games-played tiebreaker, would not be anywhere close to postseason contention. Whether or not the Sharks, boasting one of the league’s thinnest farm systems, should welcome such a development is a discussion for another time.

Regardless, the Sharks’ season would be far uglier without him.

Couture likely doesn’t have the gaudy scoring totals to truly warrant a place in the Hart Trophy conversation. So far this season, however, few players have been more integral in their team’s success than him.

In addition to leading the the team in scoring, head coach Peter DeBoer’s relied upon Couture in every situation. He’s second among Sharks forwards in average total ice time, third among San Jose skaters in total power play ice time, and the third-most used forward on the penalty kill.

It’s unclear whether or not Couture can, or will, continue to shoulder this same offensive burden. His shooting percentage this season (21.7 percent) is likely unsustainable, nearly 10 points higher than his career average.

Yet, even as the Sharks appear to be rounding into form offensively, Couture’s largely driven the bus. San Jose’s scored 29 goals in their last nine games after scoring 46 in their first 19.

Couture’s still been responsible for 31 percent of the team’s goals over the last nine games, compared to about 35 percent in the first 19. That's a subtle decline, but an important one if the rest of the team can improve.

His scoring totals aren’t eye-popping compared to the league leaders, but Couture’s been as valuable for the Sharks as any player has for their team this season. If San Jose ultimately does make the postseason, it’ll be in no small part because of Couture’s early season efforts.

Sharks beat Senators in landslide

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AP

Sharks beat Senators in landslide

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- Logan Couture had a goal and two assists to eclipse 400 career points, and Aaron Dell made 25 saves to hand Ottawa its third shutout over four games in the Sharks' 5-0 victory against the Senators on Saturday night.

Tomas HertlJoe PavelskiMarc-Edouard Vlasic and Melker Karlsson also scored as the Sharks picked up where they left off, earning a convincing win over a struggling team following a comeback victory from three goals down against Carolina on Thursday night.

The Senators took more than 12 minutes to get a shot on goal and were thoroughly outplayed during their 11th loss in 12 games. After showing some grit in an overtime loss at Los Angeles on Thursday, Ottawa reverted back to its poor form in back-to-back shutout losses against Winnipeg and Anaheim.

Craig Anderson made 45 saves in his seventh straight defeat but got little help from his teammates.

Dell was barely tested in the first two periods, and his second shutout of the season was preserved when Vlasic knocked a puck off the goal line during a power play in the third period.

The Sharks had broken the game open by then with two goals in the second. Vlasic beat Anderson from the point just seconds after a San Jose power play ended early in the period for his third of the season.

Joe Thornton and Pavelski then wore down Ottawa on a shift late in the period. Pavelski set up Karlsson, who was left alone in front for his fifth goal of the season to make it 3-0.

Pavelski and Hertl scored on power plays in the third. Couture assisted on both goals to give him 401 career points.

The Sharks got the first 10 shots on goal but were kept off the scoreboard thanks to a couple of big saves by Anderson. Pavelski hit the crossbar, too.

San Jose finally broke through shortly after Ottawa got its first shot when Couture beat Anderson between the pads off a give-and-go with Kevin Labanc for his team-leading 15th goal of the season.

NOTES: Ottawa's Ryan Dzingel fought Marcus Sorensen early in the third period. Alexandre Burrows was given a fighting major and game misconduct later in the period after going at Dylan DeMelo. ... Sharks D Paul Martin (ankle) was sent to the AHL on a conditioning assignment. Martin played Thursday in his first game since Oct. 7. ... San Jose D Tim Heed returned to the lineup after missing five games with an upper-body injury.

UP NEXT

Senators: Visit the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.

Sharks: Host the Minnesota Wild on Sunday night.