Sharks

How Sharks' dominant top line powered best win of season

Sharks
Sharks' Evander Kane and Kevin Labanc

Six different Sharks scored goals, and seven picked up assists in San Jose's 6-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night at SAP Center.

But three forwards led the way as the Sharks (8-9-2) erased a two-goal deficit against the Avs (11-7-1) in San Jose's best win this season.

Evander Kane (one goal, two assists), Logan Couture (one assist) and Kevin Labanc (one goal) further cemented themselves as the Sharks' top line, setting the tone in San Jose's comeback. The trio combined for the game-tying goal with 3:12 remaining in the second period, with Labanc slipping behind Colorado's defense and capitalizing on Couture and Kane's work below the goal line for a tap-in.

"You kind of hold the puck, you work it down low, cycle, get shots, get rebounds and it kind of breaks their coverage," Labanc told reporters in his postgame video conference. "And the next thing you know, both [defensemen] are in the corner and the slot's open. ... We've just got to make sure we produce chances for ourselves that way."

The Sharks are producing plenty of chances with those three on the ice.

Since first skating together as a regular trio Feb. 5, Kane, Couture and Labanc have formed what has been far and away the Sharks' most effective forward line. In their 131:28 of 5-on-5 ice time together over the last 11 games, San Jose has controlled 58.59 percent of the shot attempts, 65 percent of the scoring chances, 66.67 percent of the high-danger chances and 66.38 percent of the expected goals, according to Natural Stat Trick.

 

Kane, Couture and Labanc have been on the ice for nine 5-on-5 goals for compared to just four against during that time. The former mark accounts for over a third of the Sharks' 26 5-on-5 goals during that time.

Coach Bob Boughner said the Sharks' current top line is mostly a result of "trial by error," owed to experimenting with various combinations after the team's shortened training camp and lack of exhibition games.

"They've got a little bit of everything," Boughner told reporters."I think Bancer really worked hard on his two-way game. I think you can see he's got a nose for the puck, he's working hard. He's never forechecked like he's forechecking right now, and Kaner and Cooch have this chemistry where they don't throw pucks away. They're both big, strong guys, and it works."

The Sharks got offense from sources other than their top line Monday. Defenseman Radim Simek scored his first goal in nearly a year, while Erik Karlsson ended a 16-game drought dating back to last season. Timo Meier scored three points for the second consecutive game, while linemate Rudolfs Balcers also had a goal and an assist. 

Beyond tying the game, though, Kane, Couture and Labanc put the Sharks in position to storm back with a four-goal third period by shutting down the Avalanche's top line. In 8:37 head-to-head against Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, Kane, Couture and Labanc enjoyed a 9-4 edge in shot attempts, a 6-3 margin in scoring chances and a 3-1 advantage in high-danger chances.

None of those three players scored a point at full strength, either, whether against Couture's line or otherwise.

"We've been tasked to go against the other team's top line, and tonight was a challenge against one of the best lines in the world," Couture, the Sharks' captain, told reporters. "And I thought we did a pretty good job."

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The Sharks, yet to win consecutive games all season, are still trying to find combinations that work throughout the lineup. San Jose's bottom-three forward lines, as well as its bottom-two defense pairs, remain works in progress.

But right now, at least, the Sharks have a legitimately dominant first line. Boughner can reliably pencil in Kane, Couture and Labanc as his top trio every night, giving the Sharks a potentially foundational line. They were a big part of Monday's victory and, just maybe, could be an integral one in San Jose turning its season around.