Five Sharks predictions for the second half

Five Sharks predictions for the second half

The Sharks are officially set to begin the stretch run to the postseason, with the final 32 games packed into 68 days. Making the playoffs shouldn’t be an issue, as they sit atop the Pacific Division at the All-Star break, but this team has higher ambitions than just getting to the tournament after a trip to the Stanley Cup Final last year.

Here are five predictions for push to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

1 - Logan Couture will lead the team in second half points

Brent Burns is the Sharks’ leading scorer with 51 points, and there’s no reason to think he’ll slow down over the second half. Logan Couture, on the other hand, has had a disappointing first half that’s perhaps been overshadowed by Joe Thornton’s drop off in production. Couture, if you remember, had 30 points in 24 playoff games last spring. He’s sitting on 33 points through 49 games now. That’s a pretty drastic decline.

The 27-year-old has had a variety of linemates, as coach Pete DeBoer has been in search of consistent offense throughout the first half, so that probably hasn’t helped. Prior to the break, Couture looked to be gaining some chemistry with Patrick Marleau and Mikkel Boedker, though. 

He’ll have a hard time keeping up with Burns, who is in the midst of a remarkable campaign. But from this point forward, we’re predicting here that Couture has the most points until the regular season finale on April 8.

2 - Martin Jones will get more rest

The Sharks’ number one goalie hasn’t shown any signs of being tired, but the team is playing a dangerous game if it keeps playing him as much as it has. Aaron Dell has started just eight of the first 50 games, and that kind of workload will have to increase over the second half to assure Jones isn’t overworked.

Or, if the Sharks coaching staff doesn’t trust Dell – he has started just two games against teams currently in the playoffs, and those two teams, Calgary and Philadelphia, are just barely in – then the club better go out and find someone who they believe can win games against top competition.

It’s not like the Sharks’ brass doesn’t know the value of having a rested goalie for the playoffs, either. James Reimer started eight of the final 19 regular season games last season, and DeBoer and Doug Wilson both commented at the time on the importance of having two reliable, well-rested goalies. It’s hard to imagine they’ve suddenly changed their minds.

We’ll put the over/under on games Jones plays this year at 65 – the same number he hit last season. To reach that, he’ll have to sit more frequently.

3 - The trade deadline will be quiet, but at least one move will be made

Maybe the Sharks are still seeking a more veteran backup than Dell, and an argument can be made that they need to upgrade the offense, too. The main issue they face, though, is they are right up against the salary cap, and the guys that we figured were the most likely to get moved are already gone in Matt Nieto and Tommy Wingels.

They could get creative, though, perhaps sending a high round draft pick along with an underperforming forward with a high salary to a team that’s in a rebuild. (For example, and this is purely hypothetical, they could package some draft picks and a player like Joel Ward to Arizona for Martin Hanzal, who has been mentioned in some trade rumors to San Jose). 

We all know Wilson makes a ton of phone calls to GMs around the league. The guess here is that it leads to at least one notable upgrade to the roster before the deadline on March 1.

4 - At least one player will get bumped from the top power play unit

It was telling that in the game just before the All-Star break against Edmonton, DeBoer put two completely different power play units on the ice early in the third period for a extended four-minute advantage. If there’s one part of their game that will have to improve going into the postseason, it’s the power play, which is just 19-for-128 (14.8 percent) since Nov. 1.

Maybe DeBoer puts Burns, Couture, Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau back together for Tuesday’s game against the Blackhawks. But it’s likely that they’re now on a short leash. We know Burns won’t get moved from that group. Couture leads the team with seven power play goals. Pavelski won’t be going anywhere, either, with his ability to redirect pucks and find loose change around the net.

Could Thornton be a candidate to get dropped to the second unit if that top group continues to struggle? That would have been unthinkable at the start of the year, but it might be time to consider it.

5 - Sharks will face the Oilers in the first round

Yes, that means that I’m predicting that the Ducks will win the Pacific Division. Let’s face it, this Sharks team has never had the personality to go all out in the regular season just to try and earn a higher playoff seed. Finishing in third place in the Pacific last year obviously had no effect on their ability to get out of the Western Conference, either.

And, frankly, a first round matchup with Edmonton is probably a good one for the Sharks. As long as they play a sound defensive game, like they have all year, they’ll score their goals against a team that doesn’t have a great defense corps and is not quite ready to contend for a championship. There will be extra motivation among some of the Sharks, too, to beat their former coaching staff.

Mark it down – Connor McDavid’s first NHL playoff series will be against the San Jose Sharks.

Dylan Gambrell embracing challenge of splitting time between Sharks, Barracuda


Dylan Gambrell embracing challenge of splitting time between Sharks, Barracuda

San Jose Sharks center Dylan Gambrell hasn't played in an NHL game yet this season. But he's certainly getting plenty of work in.

The 22-year-old kicked off his 2018-19 campaign getting on the score sheet for San Jose's minor league affiliate, the Barracuda. But when Sharks' forward Joe Thornton left the Sharks' five-game road trip after one tilt, Gambrell was on a plane to join the big league club on the east coast. In six games so far this season, he has bounced back and forth between the NHL Sharks and their AHL branch three times.

Flip flopping sweaters may seem like a hefty workload. But Gambrell is happily taking on the challenge. And having the opportunity to create chemistry with both dressing rooms has helped make the regular transitions smoother. 

"There's such a great group of guys in both locker-rooms," Gambrell said after a lengthy Wednesday practice as the Sharks gear up to host the Buffalo Sabres. "It makes it so much easier when you come back from a trip, or from the other side of the locker-room."

It also doesn't hurt that the Sharks and their AHL club share a facility, which was not the case just a few seasons ago when players had to fly from Worcester, Massachusetts when they were recalled to the big club.

"It nice that both teams are in the same facility," said Gambrell, who the Sharks picked 60th overall in the 2016 Draft. "That makes it so much easier for a guy like me who's been going up and down a bit."

The Bonney Lake, Washington native was one of the last players at Sharks training camp to be reassigned to the 'Cuda the day before the NHL regular season opened. While the Sharks were starting off their roadie in LA against the Kings, Gambrell was leading the Barracuda with two goals and one assist in a 4-1 victory over the Ontario Reign. 

He joined the Sharks on the east coast a couple days later. And although he didn't play in those games, the rookie said he took plenty of mental notes on what the rest of the team was doing.

"Just taking little notes," the University of Denver product said of observing games. "Watching (the other players) and how they prepare, how they handle themselves on the road, the little things they're doing to get ready for a game situation."

Clearly that note-taking is paying off, even at the AHL level. No sooner had the Sharks returned from their final road game against the New Jersey Devils Sunday that Gambrell was reassigned back to the Barracuda for a Monday night tilt. He registered a goal in the second period for the AHL squad -- despite not playing since their season-opener over a week earlier. 

"It was nice to get a game in, for sure," Gambrell said. "The legs took a little bit to get going, obviously. But after the first period I felt pretty good."

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer was in attendance to watch the young center in that game. DeBoer told the media after Tuesday's practice Gambrell could see NHL game time soon. Although it isn't clear as of yet where Gambrell would slide into the lineup. While he normally plays center, the Sharks' bench boss slotted him in at wing during the Sharks' preseason. But like with switching back and forth between the AHL and NHL, Gambrell is comfortable playing in either position.

"I've played both wing and center throughout my whole life," Gambrell said, clearly okay with the workload he has taken on. "Wherever I'm slotted in, I'm pretty happy with it."

Logan Couture returns to Sharks practice after collision with teammate


Logan Couture returns to Sharks practice after collision with teammate

SAN JOSE -- 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. Sharks coach Peter DeBoer didn't immediately have an update on the center's status following Tuesday's practice, but he indicated Wednesday that everything was OK.

No. 39 has three points (one goal, two 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 L.A. Kings on Oct. 5.

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

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