Thornton, Couture both practice Monday with Sharks

Thornton, Couture both practice Monday with Sharks

SAN JOSE – Sharks centers Joe Thornton and Logan Couture both took part in practice on Monday, as San Jose prepares to face Edmonton in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There were still no real indications whether either will be able to play on Wednesday when the series opens at Rogers Place. Thornton skated for approximately a half hour before departing, while Couture was out for the entire hour-plus session.

Thornton and Couture were each wearing white practice sweaters, typically denoting top line duty, and were joined by wingers Joe Pavelski and Melker Karlsson. Thornton, who looked to be moving well considering how ugly the apparent left knee injury appeared, spent most of the skate with the fourth line options.

Last week, Thornton said there was “no doubt” he would be ready for Game 1. The 37-year-old missed the last three games and has been spotted walking with a slight limp in recent days.

Coach Pete DeBoer, who continues to refer to Thornton and Couture as day-to-day, said: "I thought [Thornton] looked good, yeah. It was a good skate for him, a good first step coming back. So, it's good."

Justin Braun said: “I thought he was alright. Progressing, for sure. A lot faster, I thought. It was great to see.”

Thornton is expected to speak with the media on Tuesday.

Couture, who continues to wear a full cage to protect his injured face, has been much more vague than Thornton about his future availability. He missed the final seven games of the regular season after taking a deflected puck to the face in Nashville on March 25, and has still not taken contact.

“I don't know what's going to happen going forward,” Couture said. “I'm still, I guess you could say, day-to-day. We'll go from there. If the game was today I don't know if I would play. If it was tomorrow, I don't know. So, we'll see."

Couture said the pain he has been dealing with has gotten “slightly” better. There’s still a chance a heavy hit could cause further damage, though.

“Oh, obviously,” he said. “It’s not completely healed. It's going to take a long time for my face to completely heal. So anything to the face, it could possibly hurt it again. Who knows? I'm wearing as [protective] gear as you can possibly wear, and trying to be careful."

If you got the cage rattled, would it cause him a lot pain?
"I haven't had it rattled. I don't know,” he said.

If Thornton and Couture are to miss playoff games, some of the Sharks’ younger players will have to step up and do a little more than they’ve done in the regular season, according to Braun.

“I think puts a little more pressure on maybe some of the younger guys to get it done,” Braun said. “It’s a chance to really make your name in this league, set yourself up for a good career. If [Thornton and Couture] are not in, some of these guys have a good chance to get their career going in the right direction. I think it’s exciting for them to get that opportunity.”

The Sharks' second line featured Tomas Hertl between Jannik Hansen and Mikkel Boedker, while Patrick Marleau centered Joel Ward and Joonas Donskoi on the third line. Each of those two lines appears to be set.

The Sharks had five players dressed in fourth line sweaters for practice: Chris Tierney, Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, Marcus Sorensen and Micheal Haley.

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.  

The anatomy of Jannik Hansen's recently-broken scoring drought after nearly one year


The anatomy of Jannik Hansen's recently-broken scoring drought after nearly one year

Jannik Hansen's game-winning goal against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday marked the first time he scored in 355 days. 

Hansen last scored on Mar. 30, 2017 against the Edmonton Oilers, his second goal with the Sharks following an in-season trade. His scoring drought, in all, lasted 44 regular season games, 50 if you include the postseason. 

How exactly does a goal-scoring drought last nearly a year? The right (wrong?) circumstances all need to come together, and that was certainly the case for Hansen for much of the last year.

For one, the Danish forward was in and out of the lineup. San Jose played 83 regular season and postseason games between Hansen's second and third goals, and he did not play in 33 of those games. Plenty of players have had rough 50-game stretches, and that's often without not playing for weeks at a time, as Hansen has done a couple of times this season. 

When Hansen did draw into the lineup this year, however, he wasn't generating offense at the same rate he had in the past. This season, Hansen's five-on-five shot rate (6.19 shots per 60 minutes), shot attempt rate (10.53 individual corsi per 60), and unblocked shot attempt rate (8.95 individual fenwick per 60) were all down from his career averages, according to Corsica Hockey. 

That decline is natural, considering Hansen turned 32 just six days ago. Those rates were not down enough, however, to expect him to fail to score in his first 39 appearances this season. Naturally, a long run of bad luck played a big role in Hansen's dry spell.

Hansen went 0-for-66 in shots over the 50 consecutive regular season and playoff games in which he did not score. He's a career 11-percent shooter, and had he shot at his career average, he would have scored seven goals during that time. That feels about right for a bottom-six forward. 

In many ways, all of these factors fed into one another. Hansen wasn't generating shots or scoring, then was scratched, then couldn't find the back of the net when he returned and was scratched again. All the while, fellow fourth-liners Marcus Sorensen (26.7 percent shooting percentage this season), Joel Ward (14.3 percent) and Barclay Goodrow (13.2 percent) were converting on their chances, forcing Peter DeBoer's hand. 

His possession play has been solid all season (50.74 percent corsi-for, per Natural Stat Trick), but the offense hasn't followed. When it does, as was the case Tuesday night, he can be an effective fourth-line forward, and the goal on Tuesday bought him more time to prove it.