Logan Couture

Couture coming up huge for Sharks in Thornton's absence


Couture coming up huge for Sharks in Thornton's absence

For a brief moment Friday night, it seemed the Sharks starred in a poorly written sequel. 

Joe Thornton was already out with another knee injury, and Logan Couture had just left the game after taking another puck to the face. The sequel appeared to do nothing more than change the timing, as Couture was injured first last season, and in March as opposed to February. 

It wasn’t the most creative change, and follow-up films have been funded for far less. But then came the twist: Couture finished out the game, and the Sharks beat the Blue Jackets 3-1. 

He told reporters after the game he’ll probably need some follow-up dental work when the team returns to San Jose, but the Sharks otherwise dodged a major bullet. They can’t afford to lose Couture, especially in light of how well he’s played since Thornton’s injury.

In four games without Thornton, Couture leads the team with four goals, including the one he scored Friday. He’s second on the team in points (five) behind Kevin Labanc (six), and is averaging three shots on goal per game, up nearly two-fifths of a shot from his season average. 

Half of his shots (six) have come on the power play, as have half of his goals (two). He has twice as many power play shots as Brent Burns in nearly two fewer minutes of ice time over the last four games with an opponent in the penalty box.

With Couture leading the way, the Sharks have stayed red-hot with the extra man in Thornton’s absence, scoring on 36.4 percent of their opportunities. San Jose didn’t have the same success on the power play when Thornton missed the final three regular season games and the first two games of the playoffs.

Then, San Jose converted on just two of its 19 opportunities, including one of 12 in those aforementioned two games of their first round series against the Edmonton Oilers. Couture played in those games, full cage and all, but clearly wasn’t himself. 

It goes without saying that any team will falter without its top two centers, and the Sharks unsurprisingly did last season. Being down one, however, doesn’t have to be a death sentence.

Couture’s demonstrating why, even as San Jose doesn’t yet truly have the record to show for it. He’s not going to keep scoring on a third of his shots, as he has in Thornton’s absence, but he can ensure the Sharks are still threatening offensively. 

As long as he does, that sequel just might manage a few more surprises. 

Couture clears next hurdle in concussion recovery


Couture clears next hurdle in concussion recovery

The San Jose Sharks won all three games in their three-game holiday homestand, and won each of those without leading goal-scorer Logan Couture. 

Couture left San Jose's matchup on December 14 with a concussion, and has not played since. With the team set to begin a stretch of five road games in eight days on Sunday, Couture is reportedly close to a return.

The 28-year-old was a full participant in Saturday's practice and centered Melker Karlsson and Kevin Labanc on the team's second line, according to The Mercury News. 

“He looked great today,” Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer told reporters (via The Mercury News) . “Great energy, full participant. It’s a great sign and we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”

Couture told reporters he's not quite ready to say whether or not he can play on New Year's Eve against the Dallas Stars. He's taken his time in his recovery so far, and will continue to do the same.

"[I'm] [s]till up in the air. We’ll see how I feel today and then tomorrow do the same,” Couture said.

Without Couture, these Sharks players are key to shutting down Kings' top line


Without Couture, these Sharks players are key to shutting down Kings' top line

Entering Saturday, only one trio spent more time together than the Los Angeles Kings’ top line of rookie Alex Iafallo, captain Anze Kopitar, and his predecessor Dustin Brown. Just three combinations scored more goals than Iafallo, Kopitar, and Brown’s 17, and they’ve given the Sharks particular trouble.

Kopitar and Brown scored four of Los Angeles’ five goals in their first two match-ups with San Jose. Three of those came in the first game, a 4-1 drubbing of the Sharks in their second game of the season.

The fourth was the Kings’ lone goal in a 2-1 loss to the Sharks on November 12. That, at least in part, came down to matchups.

The first time around, Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic spent no more than two minutes of five-on-five ice time against Los Angeles’ top trio, according to Natural Stat Trick. The Kings’ first line controlled the puck away from the Sharks’ shutdown pairing, and dominated in terms of puck possession.

Even without the benefit of last change, San Jose head coach Peter DeBoer was able to hard match Vlasic and Braun against each player for about 10 minutes in the second matchup last month. Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, and Joe Pavelski were the forwards that lined up against them most, as DeBoer threw his lines into the proverbial blender.  

There’s little doubt DeBoer will continue to rely heavily upon Braun and Vlasic, but it’s a bit of a mystery which forward line he’ll utilize. With Couture still recovering from a concussion, it’s likely shutdown duties will fall to his old linemate, Tomas Hertl, based on what the Sharks have done in his absence.

On Thursday, Brock Boeser led the Canucks in five-on-five ice time. Boeser also leads the Canucks in scoring, and spent nearly half of his night against Hertl.

Matched up head-to-head, the Sharks controlled 70.83 percent of the shot attempts and 69.23 percent of the scoring chances when Hertl and Boeser were on the ice. Each line scored a goal, but the ice was clearly tilted in San Jose’s favor.

The Sharks have controlled possession when Hertl lines up against the Kings’ top line this season, but in only two of those matched up minutes did the 24-year-old man the middle. If Thursday was any indication, he’ll see Iaffalo, Kopitar, and Brown for a lot longer.

The Kings are dangerous aside from their top line, of course, but stopping them is key to limiting Los Angeles. As long as they see plenty of Vlasic, Braun, and Hertl, the Sharks will be in a strong position to do just that.