Sharks

How Timo Meier will help Sharks fill goal-scoring void this season

How Timo Meier will help Sharks fill goal-scoring void this season

Editor's note: The Sharks open training camp later this week, looking to replace nearly 60 regular-season goals from departed forwards Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist. Before camp officially begins, NBC Sports California is examining the players who will help San Jose fill that goal-scoring void. We start with Timo Meier. 

Only one NHL player scored more goals playing fewer minutes per game than Sharks winger Timo Meier last season. 

Meier averaged a career-high 16:58 per night in his third season in San Jose, but he still scored a career-high 30 goals. Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher, meanwhile, scored 33 while averaging just 16:24 per game in ice time. 

Although his emergence unsurprisingly coincided with a career-high shooting percentage (12 percent), Meier's scoring efficency bodes well for his chances of having another career year. A significant uptick in minutes, combined with continued development, means Meier is a strong candidate to help the Sharks make up for the offensive production they lost this offseason. 

Meier played just shy of 14 minutes per night in 5-on-5 situations, where he arguably was the Sharks' most impactful forward. He generated shot attempts, expected goals, scoring chances and high-danger chances at a higher rate than any other San Jose forward last season, according to Natural Stat Trick, and led them in goals (22), too. 

Where Meier did not play as much was on the power play. Seven Sharks forwards averaged more power-play ice time than the Swiss winger (1:48), but few were as active: Meier led Sharks forwards in shots per hour, expected goals per hour, scoring chances per hour and high-danger chances per hour. 

Meier still tied for fourth on the Sharks in power-play goals (six) last season, and he stands to benefit most from Joe Pavelski's departure. Pavelski's presence as a power-play fixture needs to be replaced, as the former San Jose captain led the team in power-play ice time last season. Meier not convert on over 15 percent of his power-play shots again, but he had enough looks at the net last season where additional ice time alone could be enough for him to exceed last year's goal-scoring totals. 

That's if you assume Meier continues to generate shots and chances at the same rate, rather than improving upon either. Meier won't turn 23 until October, so it's possible he has another level to reach next season. Still, Meier ranked no worse than fifth among forwards who played a minimum of 750 5-on-5 minutes last season in generating attempts, shots and chances. He already was among the NHL's best in those areas last season, so any improvement would likely be incremental. 

[RELATED: Did Sharks prospect Chekhovich prevent goal with his face?]

But that and more ice time can be a potent combination, and there will be plenty of the latter to go around. Pavelski didn't play much more than Meier in 5-on-5 situations, but his 14:19 in full-strength ice time will be spread throughout the rest of the lineup. The 35-year-old played nearly three minutes per night on the power play, and Meier has as good a chance of anyone on the roster to fill Pavelski's vacated spot on the Sharks' top power-play unit. 

This year, Meier likely will get more chances to do the same things that drove his breakout season. That's a good formula for more goals, and continued development from Meier turns it into a great one. 

Sharks' Logan Couture avoids scare, returns to team in time of need

Sharks' Logan Couture avoids scare, returns to team in time of need

The Sharks have been below .500 since Dec. 10, but you can trace the true death knell of San Jose's season back to the fractured ankle Logan Couture sustained in the second period of a 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 7.

Prior to that defeat, the Sharks were finding their stride, earning five out of a possible six points over their previous three games, all on the road. San Jose actually prevailed in its first two games after Couture's injury, but would go on to lose five of the next six, all but vanquishing what little playoff hopes the Sharks had left. It didn't help matters that Tomas Hertl tore ligaments in his knee during that stretch, as well.

Hertl was ruled out for the season. Couture, on the other hand, returned from a 17-game absence in San Jose's 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

Couture didn't figure into the scoring, but that's understandable considering it has been nearly seven weeks since he last practiced. He wasn't able to do so prior to Tuesday's loss, but interim coach Bob Boughner was glad regardless to have the Sharks' captain back in the lineup.

"It was nice to see his name on the board," Boughner told reporters at Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday. "After morning skate, he felt that there was a chance he could play. Obviously, he's still getting his feet underneath him. His game speed is off. He's still saying that he had two or three chances to score goals tonight, so it was good to see him back."

Arguably more important than the outcome of the game was the fact that Couture emerged from it relatively unscathed. He did get a brief scare late in the second period when he went to the locker room after taking a shot to the foot, but he was back on the ice for the start of the third.

True to character, Couture was his own harshest critic following the loss, pointing the finger at himself for the frustrating outcome.

"I wish I played a little bit better, but I'm OK," Couture explained. "It's disappointing because if I score those goals or those chances, we're probably still playing right now. So, tough one."

Couture described his best scoring chance as missing "by seven feet", and admitted the lack of practice time likely played into that. However, the captain understood his team needed him, even if he wasn't in top form.

"I was cleared," Couture said. "I still haven't gotten in a practice, so my hands I knew weren't going to be great, but I figured it's been a rough couple days."

[RELATED: Wilson excited to see what Sharks' young players can do]

Couture, obviously, was referring to the passing of the NHL trade deadline, which saw several of his longtime teammates -- Brenden Dillon, Patrick Marleau and Barclay Goodrow -- head to Eastern Conference contenders. The draft picks San Jose got back in those trades should help the franchise eventually return to contention, but in the meantime, it might be a tad lonely in the Sharks' locker room.

Less so now that Couture's back, at least.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned from rough 4-2 road loss vs. Flyers

Sharks takeaways: What we learned from rough 4-2 road loss vs. Flyers

BOX SCORE

The Sharks came out of the trade deadline the same way they went into it, suffering a road loss to an Eastern Conference opponent in which San Jose wasn't all that competitive.

In a 4-2 loss Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center, the Sharks fell behind the Philadelphia Flyers within the opening two minutes. They managed to go into the first intermission with the score tied, but the Flyers mostly controlled the final two periods. Philadelphia scored twice in the second, and the depleted San Jose lineup lacked the firepower to keep up.

With the loss, the Sharks conclude a winless four-game road trip in which they were outscored 13-6 and never tallied more than two goals in any single contest.

Here are three takeaways from another loss that revealed San Jose's shortcomings.

Not Burns' best

Several of the Sharks' best players are either injured or now playing for other teams. One of the few who remains in San Jose's lineup -- defenseman Brent Burns -- is unlikely to favorably remember Tuesday's defeat.

The Flyers' first goal of the game came on a power play resulting from Burns' early hooking penalty. He was also on the ice for both of Philadelphia's goals in the second period, at least one of which he likely could have prevented if not for a bad turnover. Offensively, Burns had a rather pedestrian performance for his standards, finishing with zero points and two shots on goal.

In Burns' defense, he has taken on a larger load of the minutes in the aftermath of Erik Karlsson's season-ending injury, averaging nearly 27 minutes per game since the fellow former Norris Trophy winner went down on Feb. 14. That said, San Jose will be at a talent deficit throughout most of its remaining games, and if Burns is struggling, that will be too tough to overcome more often than not.

Ears burning

Prior to Tuesday's game, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson explained that he's looking forward to seeing what some of San Jose's younger, less-proven players can do with their increased opportunities throughout the remainder of the season. Although the Sharks lost to the Flyers, Wilson has to be pleased with certain individual performances.

Of the few youngsters Wilson specifically mentioned by name, Joel Kellman, was included. The 25-year-old Swedish winger didn't take long to show why, pulling San Jose even with the Sharks' first goal of the night. 

Defenseman Jake Middleton got the primary assist on Kellman's goal, just as he did on Tim Heed's goal in the first game of the road trip. Tuesday marked Middleton's fourth NHL game since being called up from the AHL last week, as it did for Noah Gregor, who managed to notch his second goal of the season with a wicked slap shot in the third period.

Kellman, Middleton and Gregor are the type of players Wilson was talking about prior to the game. Afterward, the GM has to like what he saw from them.

[RELATED: Wilson pleased with Sharks' haul, but work is just starting]

Dell dropping off

Tuesday marked the fourth loss in goaltender Aaron Dell's last five starts, over which he has allowed 19 goals against. That's not a good trend, but frankly, it's not as big of a deal as it would have been a few weeks ago.

Heading into the trade deadline, the Sharks had every reason to see what they could get for the pending unrestricted free agent. Had Dell's struggles occurred earlier, it likely would have diminished whatever San Jose got in return for him. Well, no trade was made, and Dell will remain with the Sharks for the duration of the season.

That is likely to be the extent of it, however. Assuming San Jose is unable to unload Martin Jones' hefty contract, it is difficult to see a situation in which Dell re-signs with the Sharks in the offseason. As such, he needs to get back on track -- not to build up his value as a trade piece, but as a free agent instead.