Defense, Marleau hot topics as Sharks approach trade deadline


Defense, Marleau hot topics as Sharks approach trade deadline

NASHVILLE –- Now that the All-Star Game has come and gone, the next big event on the NHL’s yearly calendar is just ahead on the horizon.

The 2015-16 trade deadline is on leap day, Feb. 29, just three weeks and three days from Friday.

Will the Sharks’ roster look any different by the time the calendar flips to March? There’s always that possibility.

A case can be made that the Sharks -– as well as they’ve been playing for the past month –- are thin at left wing, defense and backup goaltender. Part of the reason they’re on an impressive 9-1-2 run in their last 12 games is that they are remarkably healthy for this time of year, with not a single name on the injury report. There are sure to be some bumps and bruises, at the very least, over the final 10 weeks of the regular season.

Unlike last season there’s no question that the team will be buyers rather than sellers, considering the position they’ve put themselves in and how important it is for Doug Wilson and his staff to make it back to the playoffs.

Coach Pete DeBoer, though, suggested that his frequent communication with Wilson hasn’t deviated from the norm with the deadline creeping up.

“We have daily discussions on where our team is at, what our strengths and weaknesses are, what holes we would like to fill,” DeBoer said. “We’ve had those since day one. It’s not like those conversations are ramping up now. We’re on the same page, we both see it the same way. I really don’t have a lot to do with it. We know where we’re at. I really like our group, and we’ll see what happens.”

If the Sharks are to make a big move, it will almost certainly involve Patrick Marleau. The 36-year-old forward’s agent has reportedly been exploring options for Marleau, who earlier in the season was willing to accept a trade to either the Kings, Ducks or Rangers. New York, in particular, has been scouting the Sharks frequently in recent weeks.

When asked on Friday in Nashville if he expected to be with the Sharks after the deadline, Marleau replied: “I just worry about playing.”

* * *

The Sharks’ most pressing need is probably on the blue line. While rookie Dylan DeMelo has made a good account of himself in 25 games, the Sharks have struggled when Paul Martin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic or Justin Braun has been hurt. Their record when down one of their top four is just 1-6-1 with an abysmal goals-against average of 4.00. They haven’t had to play short recently, as DeBoer has had the luxury of dressing the same six blueliners for the past 23 games, but they could be one key injury away from defensive disaster.

That group could also arguably use a little more physicality. Although Brenden Dillon is always on the lookout for a big hit, the Sharks really haven’t had the kind of defenseman that can deliver a game-changing blow since Brad Stuart or Douglas Murray.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, though, disputes that notion that the Sharks’ defense core isn’t physical enough -– a necessity come playoff time.

“Physical is being hard on your stick, hard in front of your net – not necessary running guys through the boards. Winning the 50-50 battles. Sure, sometimes you want to make a big hit to get your team into it, but physicality most of the time is just being strong on the puck, strong on your stick, boxing out, getting guys sticks out from in front of the net. That’s physical. We can do that.”

Vlasic senses the Sharks can contend even if the current roster, defensemen or otherwise, is unchanged between now and Feb. 29. Considering the Sharks haven’t played a stinker since Jan. 2 against Winnipeg, he may be right.

“I think if [Wilson] wants to add, that’s up to him, but for now we have to concentrate on playing well and keep playing the way we have,” Vlasic said. “If this is the team we have going into playoffs, I feel really confident.”

Logan Couture returns to Sharks practice after collision with teammate


Logan Couture returns to Sharks practice after collision with teammate

Sharks fans can breathe a sigh of relief, because Logan Couture returned to practice Wednesday morning.

Couture was sidelined at the end of Tuesday morning's practice after he collided with rookie center Rourke Chartier during three-on-three drills. DeBoer didn't immediately have an update on the center's status following Tuesday's practice, but indicated Wednesday that everything was okay.

No. 39 has three points (1 goal, 2 assists) through six games so far this season, all of which were logged during the Sharks' five-game road trip. He made the early-season highlight reel when he set up Kevin Labanc for the game-winning overtime goal against the LA Kings on Friday, October 5.

San Jose was hit with early season injury woes after top line staple Joe Thornton was sidelined after the second game of the regular season due to an infection in his surgically repaired knee. The 39-year-old forward rejoined the team on Tuesday after missing the tail end of the team's road trip.

He has participated in both practices since the Sharks have returned to San Jose, although there isn't clear when he'll next suit up for a game.

Sharks notes: Joe Thornton applauds team for 'playing great' in his absence

San Jose Sharks

Sharks notes: Joe Thornton applauds team for 'playing great' in his absence

SAN JOSE -- Sharks center Joe Thornton had a fan’s view of the team’s last four games, and he said he liked what he saw.

“I think they’re playing great,” Thornton said Tuesday after his first practice since going on injured reserve Oct. 7. “I think the record could be 5-1, 4-2. We looked solid, [five-on-five] play looked really solid.

“But I really, really like our five-on-five play. It felt like what I was watching we were dictating most of the games.”

Thornton experienced swelling in his surgically repaired right knee the day after San Jose’s 3-2 overtime win over the Los Angeles Kings. In the next four games, the Sharks largely controlled play at even strength, attempting 58.92 percent of the five-on-five shots and out-chancing opponents 102-76, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Yet, the Sharks finished the Thornton-less portion of the trip 1-2-1, falling to 2-3-1 overall. That’s, at least in part, because San Jose scored on just 6.56 percent of its five-on-five shots, and 7.27 percent overall.

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said the team wants to clean up some details but also must be prepared to just ride out this stretch. 

“I think there are some things you can do to help yourself,” DeBoer said. “Some net-front traffic, and some more commitment to bearing down. But I also think you’ve got to be careful, too, and some of it is just sticking with it. There are stretches where it just doesn’t go [in].”

Risk-y Business

So, how did Thornton spend his week away from the team?

“Watched the games, played some Risk on my computer, go to hockey games with my kid,” Thornton said. “There’s always stuff to be busy with.”

Yes, Thornton -- along with a surprising number of NHL players, as Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt documented in a great story last year -- is an avid player of the Hasbro classic.

He grew up playing with his older brothers during his childhood summers, and has gotten some of his current and former teammates hooked: HC Davos roommate Rick Nash and former Sharks center Chris Tierney were among the converts mentioned in Prewitt’s story.

Gambrell earns 'a look here soon'

The Sharks did not practice Monday, so rookie center Dylan Gambrell spent the night in an AHL game, suiting up for the San Jose Barracuda. Gambrell scored or assisted on both of San Jose’s regulation goals, all with DeBoer in attendance.

The 22-year-old was one of the last cuts of training camp, and he traveled with the team after Thornton was placed on injured reserve. Gambrell has not played for the Sharks yet this season, but he now has five points in two AHL games. 

“He’s gone down and handled the demotion the right way by being the best player on the ice most nights he’s down there,” DeBoer said. “He’s gonna get a look here soon, and hopefully he takes it and runs with it.”

Gambrell played on the wing at Tuesday’s practice, skating with Timo Meier and Logan Couture while Tomas Hertl sat for a maintenance day. Gambrell played on the wing in the preseason, too, and DeBoer said that can only help his cause. 

“If you’re a centerman, you want to be able to knock on the coach’s door and say, ‘Hey, listen, I can also play wing until you need [one],' ” DeBoer said. “He’s got that versatility to his game because of his speed, so I think the more positions he can play, the more opportunities he’s going to get.” 

Fine Lines

While Kevin Labanc also sat for a maintenance day, Thornton returned to the top line alongside Joe Pavelski and Evander Kane. Other than him and Gambrell, there were no other changes to the line combinations and defense pairs from the end of the road trip, and they shook out as follows:

Evander Kane - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Timo Meier - Logan Couture - Dylan Gambrell
Marcus Sorensen - Antti Suomela - Joonas Donskoi
Barclay Goodrow - Rourke Chartier - Melker Karlsson

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Erik Karlsson
Joakim Ryan - Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon - Justin Braun
Radim Simek - Tim Heed

Second-line center Logan Couture collided with Rourke Chartier in a drill Tuesday, and appeared to be holding his wrist afterward. DeBoer did not have an update immediately after practice.

If Couture doesn’t skate Wednesday, the Sharks could ice much different lines in his absence.