Analysis: Sharks reestablishing their foundation on road trip

Analysis: Sharks reestablishing their foundation on road trip

When the goals aren’t flowing, playing a more buttoned-up defensive game becomes that much more vital.

The Sharks are 3-0 on their ongoing six-game road trip primarily because they’ve kept some high-powered offenses at bay. They’ve stayed out of the penalty box, are working hard all over the ice, aren't giving up many dangerous scoring chances, and are getting steady goaltending from Martin Jones.

The result has been wins over the Capitals, Panthers and Lightning, the most recent of which – a 3-1 triumph over Tampa Bay on Saturday – may have been their most impressive of the season.

“We’re rising to the occasion at the right time, and finding another level,” coach Pete DeBoer told reporters after the game.

The benefit of having a veteran team – and the Sharks are certainly that, with the oldest team in the league according to – is that they won’t panic when they hit a rough patch. They were scuffling before the trip with three straight regulation losses, including a 5-0 shellacking at the hands of the Penguins on Nov. 5 at SAP Center.

But despite that decisive shutout defeat, the Sharks didn’t turn their attention to their lack of goal scoring. They had to get back to playing more responsible defensively after some blatant, head-shaking breakdowns in those losses to the Coyotes, Flames and Penguins.

“As a team, we talked about the most important thing is playing a good defensive game,” Tommy Wingels said after the 4-2 win over the Panthers on Thursday.

The penalty kill plays a huge part in that, of course, and that’s been the most consistent part of the Sharks’ game since opening night. They’ve remarkably killed off 24 straight opponent power plays, not surrendering a single power play goal since that third period collapse in Pittsburgh way back on Oct. 20.

One huge key to that PK success is they haven’t been overly taxed. The Sharks have been shorthanded just 37 times, the fewest in the league, and are six-for-six on the road trip so far.

Faceoffs have improved, too, as San Jose has won more than 50 percent of its draws in six of its last seven games. They were last in the league in faceoffs prior to that run, but are now up to a respectable 48.9 percent.

The Sharks still have yet to score more than three goals in a win this season, not including empty netters (they scored four against the Rangers on Oct. 17, but lost 7-4). They’re still 21st in the NHL at 2.47 per game.

But with their lineup mostly unchanged from last season when they finished fourth in the league at 2.89 goals per game, the expectation is that part of their game will come around. At some point, it will have to.

In the meantime, the Sharks are reestablishing that defensive foundation that made them so successful last season. That bodes well for future.

Logan Couture collides with teammate at Sharks practice, status unclear


Logan Couture collides with teammate at Sharks practice, status unclear

SAN JOSE -- As one center returned to practice on Tuesday, the Sharks could be without another. 

On the same day top center Joe Thornton practiced for the first time since experiencing swelling in his surgically repaired right knee, second-line pivot Logan Couture collided with center Rourke Chartier in a three-on-three drill at the end of practice, and appeared to be grabbing one of his wrists. 

San Jose head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters after practice he had yet to hear about the seriousness

"I don't have an update yet," DeBoer said. "I hope it’s nothing serious, but I don’t have an update.” 

Couture has played in each of the Sharks' six games so far. He leads all San Jose forwards in average ice time (20:03), and has scored three points so far this season. The 29-year-old signed an eight-year contract extension with the Sharks on July 1, and led the team with a career-high 34 goals last season, playing in all but four regular-season games. 

Prior to Tuesday's practice, the Sharks recalled center Dylan Gambrell from the AHL's San Jose Barracuda. Gambrell skated on the wing of Couture's line, while wingers Tomas Hertl and Kevin Labanc sat for maintenance days. 

Joe Thornton returns to Sharks practice; Kevin Labanc, Tomas Hertl sit out


Joe Thornton returns to Sharks practice; Kevin Labanc, Tomas Hertl sit out

SAN JOSE -- For the first time since experiencing swelling in his surgically repaired right knee, Sharks center Joe Thornton returned to practice with the team on Tuesday.

The 39-year-old called himself "day-to-day," as he continues to take antibiotics for an infection, the cause of swelling in his knee. He told reporters he is awaiting the results of a blood test, and seeing how his knee responds after Tuesday's practice session. 

"They just want to make sure [we] get rid of if it now," Thornton said, "so that I don't have to deal with it in December, January, February ... So just squash it now, get me healthy, and then I'll be ready to go."

Thornton was placed on injured reserve on Oct. 7 after experiencing swelling in his surgically repaired right knee. The 39-year-old played 14:09 in the Sharks’ 3-2 overtime win against the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 5., but did not join the team for the rest of the trip. 

Although Thornton said he skated for around 15 minutes on Monday, Tuesday was the "first day that I kind of pushed it." He said the swelling in his right knee cleared up well beforehand, and that he "still felt strong" on the ice. 

Thornton told reporters he thought it was a possibility he could draw back into the lineup on Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres. Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer termed Thornton as "doubtful" for Thursday, and said the team is waiting for the antibiotics to clear out the infection -- however long that takes.

"I’d never count against him," DeBoer said. "Bottom line is we have to let the antibiotics do their job, and their job doesn’t happen overnight.”

Thornton remains on injured reserve, and the team recalled rookie center Dylan Gambrell from the AHL's San Jose Barracuda to take Thornton's place on the active roster.

Gambrell practiced on Tuesday, one day after picking up points -- a goal and an assist -- on each of the Barracuda's regulation tallies in a 3-2, shootout win over the Tucson Roadrunners at SAP Center. The 22-year-old originally took Thornton's place on the roster when the veteran center was initially placed on injured reserve, but did not suit up for the Sharks on the road trip. 

Thornton skated alongside Joe Pavelski and Evander Kane, his linemates in the season opener against the Anaheim Ducks two weeks ago, and through much of the preseason. Gambrell, meanwhile, was on a line with Logan Couture and Timo Meier.

Kevin Labanc skated with Pavelski and Kane in the last game of the Sharks' road trip on Sunday, while Tomas Hertl played with Couture and Meier. Labanc and Hertl missed practice on Tuesday for "nothing major," according to DeBoer, and will be back on the ice on Wednesday. 

Whether Thornton -- or Couture, who appeared hurt after a collision with Rourke Chartier near the end of practice -- is back as well, remains to be seen. As he repatedly told reporters, he is, after all, day-to-day. 

"Hopefully I wake up tomorrow [with] no swelling, and we'll go from there," Thornton said.