Sharks notes: Couture not scoring; DeBoer riding Jones


Sharks notes: Couture not scoring; DeBoer riding Jones

SAN JOSE – Sharks forward Logan Couture feels like his game is improving, even though the goals and points aren’t there just yet. 

The 27-year-old has just one assist in his last six games, and has gone without a goal for eight straight. 

Couture has six points (2g, 4a) in 11 games for the season, but has yet to score an even-strength goal. Typically a guy that can be hard on himself, Couture didn’t express any panic on Friday morning, though. Rather, he pointed to his 10 shots in the last two games combined as a sign that he’s getting his looks.

“I feel like the last couple I’ve had a lot of chances,” he said. "It’s gotten better. I think I went through a couple games where it wasn’t up to par. That’s going to happen over an 82-game season, but I expect a lot out of myself, and obviously want to contribute offensively.”

Coach Pete DeBoer thought that in the first half of the Sharks’ 3-2 loss to Calgary on Thursday, that Couture was their best player. No heart-to-heart conversations are necessary with the alternate captain despite his scoring slump, either.

“He’s a seasoned pro, and he understands his own game better than anybody,” DeBoer said. “He’s out working on some things after practice. He’s gotten some really good looks that over the long term we know are going to go in.”

Faceoffs, though, continue to be an issue for Couture, as he’s just 45-for-129 on the season (34.9 percent). Among the 102 players in the NHL that have taken at least 80 draws, that’s dead last.

“I’ve struggled,” he admitted. “Those stats guys don’t always get it right, but obviously I’ve lost more than I’ve won, so it’s something that needs to improve.”

* * *

Martin Jones has started 10 of 11 games, and he’ll presumably go against the Penguins on Saturday, too. His numbers are so-so, as he’s 5-5-0 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.

Despite the rest that Jones benefited from in the second half of last season after the club acquired James Reimer, DeBoer isn’t concerned about wearing out his goalie in early November.

“We’re only 11 games into the season, so it’s not an awful lot of work. The way the schedule is laid out he hasn’t played a back-to-back yet,” DeBoer said. “I don’t think that fatigue or too many games at the 11-game mark is even a conversation point.”

At the same time, first-year backup Aaron Dell has played in just one game. It’s difficult to envision him getting in on Saturday or next Tuesday in Washington, so it will be at least another week before he sees any action. Even if he plays in Florida on Nov. 10, that’s a full 23 days after his previous start on Oct. 18 in Brooklyn.

“As far as keeping Aaron Dell fresh, that is something that [the coaches] have to talk about,” DeBoer said. “Like a lot of backups in this league, if you’re playing behind Carey Price or [Henrik] Lundqvist or one of those guys, you’ve got to keep yourself ready for when you get the opportunity to play.”

The Sharks have played just one of their 16 back-to-backs this season, with the next on Nov. 25-26. 

* * *

Tommy Wingels said he’s good to go for Saturday’s game against the Penguins. He blocked a shot midway through the second period against Calgary, returned to the bench for the third, but took just one shift.

The Sharks didn’t skate on Friday morning at their practice facility (other than the recent healthy scratches), so there was no indication on how DeBoer would line up his forwards against the Penguins. They were all jumbled up for the second half of the Flames game as the coach desperately tried to wake up his lethargic club.

DeBoer did, however, hold a team meeting at the practice facility, and some players had some one-on-ones with the coaches.

“Went over some clips that each player needs to look at and realize what they can do better,” Couture said.

DeBoer said: “For the most part, we’re an honest, hard-working group. Sometimes we need to have a tough conversation, but most of the time they don’t give me any reason to.”

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights


SAN JOSE -- Seconds after almost costing the San Jose Sharks a game with a turnover, Logan Couture ended it with his backhand.

Couture scored 39 seconds into overtime after getting bailed out by goalie Martin Jones and the San Jose Sharks won their season-high sixth straight game, 2-1 over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night.

"I was able to make a move on their guy," Couture said. "(Marc-Edouard Vlasic) did a good job of driving their backchecker back and I was able to go far side."

Couture's goal came at the end of an opening shift of the overtime that started with him losing the puck in his own zone, giving Jonathan Marchessault a chance alone in front. Jones got enough of the shot to stop it, and then Vlasic sent the puck ahead to Couture for the winning goal that moved San Jose within seven points of first-place Vegas with eight games remaining in the regular season.

Brent Burns also scored and Jones made 24 saves to help the Sharks open a four-point lead over third-place Los Angeles in the Pacific Division with a game in hand as the Sharks close in on home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

"For us to get a win tonight was important," captain Joe Pavelski said. "Plus, just plant that seed. If we stay hot, you never know, we might be able to catch them and get home ice. We took care of business tonight and we'll try to keep playing well."

Tomas Tatar scored the lone goal for the Golden Knights, who were kept in the game by a sterling performance by goalie Malcolm Subban. He stopped 42 shots but it wasn't enough for Vegas to come up with the win, although he helped earn a point that gave the expansion team 100 this season.

"It's impressive," forward James Neal said. "It's a great season for our guys. Guys came together real quick. A great job so far but we're not done yet."

The Golden Knights struck first on a pretty passing play early in the first period that ended when Marchessault found Tatar cutting through the slot ahead of Justin Braun. Tatar skated past Jones and backhanded the puck into the open net.

Vegas has been dominant when getting off to a lead, posting an NHL-best 31-5-1 record when scoring first heading into this game. But the Sharks carried the play in the second period, outshooting the Golden Knights 18-4 and getting the equalizer on a blast by Burns from the point after another strong shift by San Jose's fourth line.

"We want to be playing really good hockey this time of year and heading into the playoffs. I think that's the goal," coach Peter DeBoer said. "Whether we would have won tonight or lost, I like how we played for most of the game, so that's what I'm concentrating on."

Vegas managed to keep it tied despite the lopsided shot totals, killing off a four-minute penalty to Colin Miller and another late power play that started late in the second.

That penalty carried over until the third period and the Sharks got 25 seconds of a two-man advantage after Brayden McNabb was called for throwing his stick but still couldn't get anything past Subban.

The Golden Knights squandered a power-play chance later in the period when Miller was called for cross checking with the man advantage. That nearly led to a power-play goal for San Jose but Subban appeared to get a piece of a shot from in close to Joe Pavelski to keep the game tied at 1.

"He's the main reason we got the point," coach Gerard Gallant said. "He looked comfortable."

NOTES: Vegas G Marc-Andre Fleury didn't make the trip to San Jose with an undisclosed injury but is expected to join the team for Saturday's game in Colorado. ... Burns became the 15th player to play 500 career games with the Sharks.

Golden Knights: Visit Colorado on Saturday.

Sharks: Host Calgary on Saturday.


How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific


How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific

About a month ago, the Sharks appeared locked into the Pacific Division's second, third, fourth, or fifth spot. At the end of trade deadline day, they were 12 points back of the division-leading Vegas Golden Knights, and only two points up on the fifth place Calgary Flames.

24 days later, thanks to an 8-2-0 record over the last 10 games (second-best in the NHL), San Jose's still in second place. Now though, those margins are eight points and 11 points, respectively. 

The latter's pretty much locked the Sharks into a playoff spot, while the former's created a path for a late run at the Pacific Division crown. Beginning Thursday night, they will play the Golden Knights twice over both team's final nine games. 

What does the path look like to the Sharks' first division title since 2011? To start, they'll have to beat the Golden Knights twice in regulation to even have a shot. 

That is the foundation of any run at the Pacific's top spot. If the Sharks win both remaining games in regulation, they'll trail the Golden Knights by four points, leaving aside results against other teams for now.

They have to win in regulation, however. A win in overtime or the shootout on Thursday would only cut the gap to seven, and a subsequent win in regulation would leave it at five. Two losses, in any situation, would create a gap of 10-12 points, which would be nearly impossible to overcome this late in the season. 

One point doesn't seem like a lot, but this late in the season, it makes a world of difference. A five-point gap means they'll need to earn six more than the Golden Knights in those other seven games, while a four-point gap means they'll need to earn five in order to pass them. 

The simplest way to five extra points, is for the Sharks to have a record that's two wins and an overtime loss better (2-0-1) than the Golden Knights in the seven games where they don't play each other. That's impossible if Vegas earns at least 10 points in those seven games, so a 5-2-0 or 4-1-2 record would ensure a division banner raising in Sin City.

Taken all together, then, the Golden Knights' 'magic number' is 10 points. Even if the Sharks win on Thursday, their path to a Pacific title remains difficult, if not improbable. 

If a season with an expansion team leading their division has taught us anything, though -- it's that improbable is not impossible.