Kevin Labanc

Labanc, Sharks overcoming even strength scoring woes

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USATSI

Labanc, Sharks overcoming even strength scoring woes

Kevin Labanc’s first period goal in the Sharks’ Sunday win over the Ducks certainly didn’t look like it was just his fifth of the season, or only his third since opening night.

The 22-year-old, sprung in alone on a breakaway, sold Anaheim goaltender John Gibson on a fake shot with a leg kick, and snapped the puck past him into the top corner. You know a ‘goal-scorers goal’ when you see it, and you saw it 3:38 into the second period.

Labanc not only broke a 12-game, month-long goalless drought, but picked up his third point in as many games after scoring zero in his previous six. Despite his emergence as a force on the power play, all three points came during five-on-five play.

He’s generated six scoring chances in five-on-five situations in his last three games, according to Natural Stat Trick. That’s as many as Labanc accounted for in the six games preceding this run.

The same can be said about his five-on-five shot attempts (seven) and high-danger chances (two). His six shots on goal in his last three games are just one shy of also matching his five-on-five output over his six games prior.

In those categories, Labanc ranks third, third, and tied for second among Sharks forwards, as well as third in five-on-five scoring chances. He’s also tied with Mikkel Boedker for the forward-lead in five-on-five points over the last three games, despite playing only the eighth-most five-on-five minutes.

As Labanc’s broken out of an extended slump, so have the Sharks. Since returning from the bye week on Jan. 13, San Jose is fifth in five-on-five scoring rate (3.1 goals for/60 minutes), compared to 28th before their bye (1.91).

They’re also 5-1-0 during that time.

The Sharks, much like Labanc, were too reliant upon power play production prior to the NHL-mandated week off. Over half of Labanc’s points came with (at least) a man advantage, and 32 of San Jose’s 108 were scored on the power play.

Since, the second-year forward has only scored five-on-five points, while only five of the Sharks’ 23 goals were power play tallies. The power play’s still converting, but it’s not been the sole driver of San Jose’s offense.

It’s only a six-game sample, but the early five-on-five, post-bye week returns are promising for Labanc and the Sharks. The next step for both is to maintain that pace.

If Labanc and San Jose can, the Sharks may not need to shop for a top-six winger at the trade deadline after all.

Kevin Labanc's surprising emergence on the power play

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USATSI

Kevin Labanc's surprising emergence on the power play

Given their respective scouting reports, you may have thought Thursday night's box score mixed up Kevin Labanc and Joe Thornton’s final stat lines.

Labanc, the supposed sniper, finished with three assists and just one goal -- the game-winner in overtime against the Vancouver Canucks. Thornton, the alleged assists man, scored two goals and picked up a single assist. 

What shouldn’t come as a surprise is that both players did significant damage on the power play. Thornton’s long been an elite player with an opponent (or two) sitting in the penalty box, and Labanc’s emerging as one. 

Only five players that have played a minimum of 50 minutes on the power play have scored points at a higher rate there than Labanc (9.19 points per 60 minutes, according to Corsica Hockey). He’s not padding his stats with secondary assists, either, as only the same number has scored primary points at a higher rate (7.15 per 60).

He’s in elite company, as the five players that score primary points on the power play at a higher rate are James Van Riemdsyk, Blake Wheeler, Brock Boeser, Filip Forsberg, and Steven Stamkos. Plus, only two players are picking up primary assists at a higher rate: Wheeler and Josh Bailey, the NHL’s assists leader entering Friday.

Perhaps most impressively, Labanc’s been productive in fairly limited minutes. He’s only seventh on the Sharks in total ice time on the power play. He has also played the fewest minutes of any player in the top 10 in primary scoring rate, nearly 18 fewer minutes than the next closest player.

Only three Sharks have scored more power play points than Labanc, and they’ve all played at least 40 more minutes on the power play. Thornton’s the only player with more primary power play points than Labanc, and he’s nearly doubled (110.73 minutes) the second-year forward’s ice time (58.78).

The 22-year-old’s been a pivotal part of the Sharks’ resurgent power play, which has now scored in each of the last seven games. Labanc’s assisted on four of San Jose’s last six power play goals, including two of three on Thursday. 

Labanc has faced his fair share of adversity this season, breaking a 23-game goalless drought against Vancouver and spending a brief stint in the AHL with the Barracuda. Now, Labanc’s carved out a niche, and has established himself as a top playmaker on what has become one of the league’s best power plays. 

The Sharks may have expected him to do so with his shot, rather than his passing ability, but they’ll surely take it either way.

Labanc lifts Sharks past Canucks

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AP

Labanc lifts Sharks past Canucks

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- Kevin Labanc scored 1:53 into overtime and the San Jose Sharks beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-4 on Thursday night.

Labanc also had three assists as the Sharks improved to 4-1-2 over their last seven games. Joe Thornton scored twice for San Jose and added an assist as he moved past Doug Gilmour for 18th place on the NHL list with 1,416 career points.

Labanc's fourth goal of the season came off an assist from Tomas Hertl.

The Canucks lost for the sixth time in seven games, with their lone win during that span against San Jose on Dec. 15.

Vancouver trailed 4-3 before Daniel Sedin scored at 2:09 of the third period to tie it. The Canucks rallied from a 3-1 deficit.

Jake Virtanen scored to bring Vancouver within a goal at 8:49 of the second, and Brock Boeser tied the game at 16:02.

Boeser's goal was his 19th of the season and eighth in 11 games.

Hertl scored for San Jose on a 5-on-3 power play with 1:04 left in the second to give the Sharks a 4-3 lead.

San Jose trailed 1-0 before Thornton tied Gilmour with a goal at 11:52 of the first period. The Sharks took a 2-1 lead at 5:20 of the second when Timo Meier scored his fifth goal.

Brendan Gaunce scored the game's first goal at 1:58 of the first period on a play Jake Virtanen started with a backhand pass to trailer Erik Gudbranson. He fired a shot that Gaunce redirected for his first goal of the season.

Late in the first period, defenseman Michael De Zotto saved a goal when he cleared a puck that got past goalie Jacob Markstrom inches from the net.

NOTES: Canucks D Ben Hutton was a healthy scratch. RW Nikolay Goldobin, a former Shark, also was scratched. . Sharks D Paul Martin had a setback in his recovery from ankle surgery. The injury isn't a recurrence of the same injury. Martin has been on injured reserve since Oct. 12. There is no timetable for his return. . C Logan Couture, out with a concussion he suffered against the Canucks last week, missed his second game. ... The Sharks recalled forwards Marcus Sorenson and Danny O'Regan from the AHL.

UP NEXT

Canucks: Host the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.

Sharks: Host the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday.