Stuart ready for his return to Sharks


Stuart ready for his return to Sharks

SAN JOSE The summer of 2012 wasnt much different for Brad Stuart than the summer after he was sent to Boston in 2005 as part of the Sharks-Bruins trade that brought Joe Thornton to the Bay Area.

Stuart kept his house here, returning every offseason, including after each of the previous five years with Detroit. Now, hes back at that house full-time, and looking forward to putting on a teal and black sweater again at HP Pavilion.

REWIND: Sharks agree on terms with Brad Stuart

Really, at this point it seems like nothing is different, other than Im wearing different colors and Ive been able to come into the facility all summer, the defenseman said on Friday at Sharks Ice.

Sharks fans that were looking forward to seeing Stuart, who was drafted third overall by San Jose in 1998 and spent the first five-plus years of his career here, will have to wait, as the NHL lockout drags on. The first two weeks of the regular season have already been wiped out, so Stuarts return is delayed. The Sharks home opener against the New York Rangers was set for Oct. 15.

Obviously, from a personal standpoint, I was anxious to get going, and excited about this season. I guess Ive got to put that on hold for a little bit, said Stuart, who has no plans to sign with a team overseas, as so many other NHLers have done already. The tough part I guess, at this point, is not knowing how long the lockout is going to be. You dont know what youre really getting ready for at this point. Youve got to stay focused and keep that mentality that you have in the mid-summer, preparing for a season.

Speculation that Stuart would return to the Bay Area was rampant even before last season ended, and while he was still sporting a winged wheel. It was known that he wanted to be closer to his wife and family, which includes two boys (four and five years old) and Stuarts 17-year-old stepdaughter.

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Red Wings general manager Ken Holland traded Stuarts rights to the Sharks on June 10 before the defenseman was to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, with the stipulation that Detroit would still be interested in Stuarts services if he was unable to come to an agreement with San Jose.

Sharks GM Doug Wilson quickly locked Stuart up, though, on a three-year contract worth 3.6 million annually.

RELATED: Brad Stuart has a no trade clause

I had been pretty open and honest with Detroit the whole time. The situation was pretty hard on my family. As much as I loved playing there and being a part of that organization, I had to at least try to get closer to my family, whether that was here or somewhere further West, Stuart said. If that didnt work out, I was open to going back to the Wings, but I had to at least try. Things worked out for the best, obviously.

When and if the 2012-13 season gets going, Stuart will immediately step in to the Sharks defense corps in a top four role. Along with Dan Boyle, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the Sharks can boast of one of the strongest top two pairings in the league.
Having a combination of the veteran Douglas Murray, the improving Justin Braun and Jason Demers to fill out the bottom pair, or fill in in case of injury, and the Sharks defense may be the strongest facet of their team (although Murray and Demers will both be trying to rebound from difficult seasons).

Stuart should also be able to help the teams penalty-killing, which finished 29th in the NHL and was a glaring weakness throughout a season in which the Sharks underachieved. Stuart led the Red Wings in time-on-ice shorthanded per game last season (3:10), and Detroit finished 18th in the NHL at 81.8 percent, nearly five percentage points higher than San Joses ineffective unit (76.9 percent).

I can be a guy that can play in the top four and just be steady, physical, and play some hard minutes, penalty kill, said Stuart, who had six goals and 15 assists along with 29 penalty minutes last season. Make it tough for other teams to play against thats my game, thats what Ill do.

Stuarts return to the Sharks could also be viewed as a case of if you cant beat em, join em. The Sharks have had an abundance of success against Detroit in recent years, including eliminating them from the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2010 and 2011. Last season, the Sharks won three of the four head-to-head matchups before both clubs suffered first-round playoff defeats in April.

I think as a team, they got up to play us, as most teams do. When you have the skill that the Sharks have, theyre a dangerous team, Stuart said.

Still, the Sharks still appear to a group whose window is closing, if it hasnt already. Core players like Thornton, Boyle, Patrick Marleau, Ryane Clowe and Marty Havlat will all be on the wrong side of 30 by the time the season gets underway.

The 32-year-old Stuart isnt buying that, though.

From the outside looking in, people are going to talk about that. Thats one thing that jumps out. I went through the same thing playing for Detroit, it was always, This team is getting too old. The window is closing. But somehow, some way we kept finding a way to win.

I think if youve got guys that are committed to that and youre bringing guys up through the system they see that, and it just kind of carries on down. This team has a lot of skill and theyve got some good young players I think can learn from the older guys. It trickles down, and they become the guys that can set the example, and it carries on for years and years.

Sharks should be thankful for these two players on Thanksgiving


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


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


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.


Sharks: visit Las Vegas on Friday

Coyotes: host Los Angeles on Friday.