Kevin Labanc expects to assume bigger role with Sharks next season


Kevin Labanc expects to assume bigger role with Sharks next season

Kevin Labanc was a huge part of the Sharks' come-from-behind Game 7 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights back in April, tallying a goal and three assists when Team Teal buried four power-play markers in just as many minutes. 

With as big as that moment was in this year's playoffs, it's really no surprise the young forward has revisited that game a couple of times during the offseason.

"I'd be lying if I said I hadn't watched highlights of that game a couple of times," Labanc told the media on a conference call Monday. "People ask me about it every other week I think."

That four-point effort was just one instance that highlighted how Labanc transformed into a difference-maker for the Sharks this past season. Now that he has re-signed to a one-year contract that will keep him in teal, he's looking to capitalize on his accomplishments from the last campaign -- and even take on some leadership responsibilities.

"I see myself taking on a bigger role," the Staten Island, New York native said. "I think last year was a good stepping stone for me to kind of prove to myself that I can handle a top-six role. I'm looking forward to next season and looking forward to being one of the top players on the team."

That's a big step for the 23-year-old winger. Through the first 41 games of the 2018-19 season, Labanc struggled with consistency and defensive mistakes and closed out 2018 with 24 points (four goals, 20 assists) and a minus-5 rating. But he buckled down and worked to right the ship, ending the last 41 games of the regular season with 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) and at a plus-4.

Even before that four-point third period in the playoffs, Labanc was already showing his ability to step up and be a big presence for San Jose.

"He grew his game last year,"  Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said. "He tried to become a 200-foot player and be trusted by our coaches. So I think this is an exciting year for him."

There is extra room for Labanc to step up and take on more responsibility with how free agency has reshaped the team. With Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi, and Gustav Nyquist signing with different teams in free agency, San Jose needs its emerging young players to fill in bigger roles, and Labanc is one of the players expected to make that leap.

After the improvements he made last season, he seems ready to accept that responsibility.

[RELATED: How Meier's contract helps Sharks]

"That's what I love about him, that he believes in himself," Wilson said. "We got a glimpse of him doing something special in that Vegas game. When you see somebody doing something like that under a pressure situation, you know there are some high-end capabilities there."

"I'm just looking forward to the enhanced role in the upcoming season," Labanc said. "I believe my best hockey is ahead of me and I can't wait to get back on the ice with the boys."

Sharks fail to correct bad habits in first game after coaching change


Sharks fail to correct bad habits in first game after coaching change

SAN JOSE -- Thursday could have been a fresh start for the Sharks. As shocking and emotional as it was to go through a midseason coaching change, they were presented with the opportunity to turn things around.

Unfortunately, Thursday's game against the Rangers featured a lot of the same problems. Missed opportunities, loose late-game play and yet another notch in the loss column.

Sure, getting accustomed to a new coach's ways can take some time. But that doesn't give the Sharks a pass when it comes to playing a full 60-minute hockey game.

"It's tough, it's difficult, but there's no excuse," captain Logan Couture said after the 6-3 loss. "Lots of teams have [gone through a coaching change]. A lot of teams in this league have done it and they've gone on winning streaks. The team that did it last year won the Cup. So, we've got to find a way. Tonight wasn't good enough once again."

San Jose did, in fact, have a great chance to get back into the win column in Bob Boughner's first game behind the bench. Even with New York continuing to grind away, the Sharks were able to take a 3-2 lead at the 4:12 mark of the third period thanks to a big goal from Brenden Dillon.

But then the defense took its foot off of the gas and Martin Jones couldn't stop Mike Zibanejad or Artemi Panarin from pushing the Rangers over the hump. In a matter of minutes, the Sharks went from defending a lead to being in a hole they didn't have time to dig out of.

"When you have a lead in the third with 15 minutes left, you have to defend a little bit harder and not turn the puck over like we did," Couture continued. "Play harder in our own end, which we did not. Defend our slot harder tonight, and I don't think we did."

Dillon agreed. "Frustrating when you have a lead like that. Especially at home, we have to be able to close it out. If we give up the tying goal, and then a couple more, it's just frustrating."

Letting up late isn't the only thing that is plaguing the Sharks right now. San Jose has struggled to play a full 60-minute game for the bulk of the season thus far. Thursday's loss showed yet again that San Jose isn't playing full games on a nightly basis -- regardless of who is behind the bench.

"I think we did some good things tonight, but obviously it still wasn't a full 60," interim head coach Bob Boughner observed. "I think in the third period we ran out of gas there a little bit."

[RELATED: Boughner confident in staff, wants Sharks to play inspired]

Martin Jones, who surrendered three goals in the third period, agreed. "Have to play a full 60 minutes, you have to," he said, acknowledging that having an adjustment period with a new coaching staff isn't an excuse. "They had more jump in the third period than us. We've got to find a way in a tied hockey game to come out with a little bit more energy. I don't know how many shots or scoring chances we had in the third, but we need to apply more pressure in a close hockey game like that."

Whether it's applying more pressure or tightening up, the Sharks clearly still have a laundry list of things they need to clean up. Now with the dust settling in regards to the coaching change, San Jose has no other option but to dig deep and keep working.

"There's a lot of work to be done," Boughner reminded everyone. "We'll have a good practice day tomorrow. Sort some things out."

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in disappointing 6-3 loss to Rangers


Sharks takeaways: What we learned in disappointing 6-3 loss to Rangers


SAN JOSE -- Considering all of the chaos surrounding the Sharks over the last 24 hours, you might have forgotten that they still had a game to play Thursday night.

It wasn’t the tightest game San Jose has played this season, nor was it the most dominant. And while the Sharks were able to take a late lead thanks to Brenden Dillon’s first goal of the season, the visiting New York Rangers buried a few late-game goals to hand San Jose a 6-3 loss and extend the losing streak to six games.

Here are three takeaways from Bob Boughner's debut behind the bench:

Defense still needs work 

Clearly, the Sharks are still a work in progress. A coaching change isn't going to make them a different team overnight. So while aspects of their game looked better on Thursday, there are still areas they need to tighten up, with defense being the area that stuck out the most against New York.

San Jose did a good job early on of being stingy in its own zone and leading the charge with eight blocked shots to the Rangers' two. But in the second period, the Sharks began giving the visitors more room to move the puck up the middle of the ice which, in turn, made Martin Jones' job harder. It's no wonder the Rangers were able to score two goals less than three minutes apart in that frame.

Goaltending remains a question mark 

During Thursday afternoon’s press conference, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson was adamant that the defense in front of San Jose’s net needs to be better, but so do the goaltenders. Jones made some nice saves against an opportunistic Rangers team that never slowed down throughout the game, but he wasn't at his best on San Jose’s third-period penalty kill when he gave up multiple goals that he should have had.

If the Sharks are going to rebound from the current losing streak, Jones must regain the confidence he played with at the end of November. There’s no way around it.

[RELATED: Boughner confident in staff, wants Sharks to play inspired]

Hertl is on the mend 

If there was one Sharks player who noticeably was better against the Rangers, it was Tomas Hertl. The Czech forward slowly has been recovering from an ankle injury that has encumbered his playing abilities. Against the Rangers, however, he looked like he's regaining some of his swagger.

Hertl's strength and patience paid off on the penalty kill when he beat netminder Alexandar Georgiev for a short-handed goal to open up scoring. But he also had a couple of chances later in the game that, despite not finding the back of the net, challenged Georgiev and New York's defense. Hertl might not be operating at 100 percent just yet, but at least he's showing flashes of the power forward he can be.