Sharks

Kevin Labanc's surprising emergence on the power play

labanc-us.jpg
USATSI

Kevin Labanc's surprising emergence on the power play

Given their respective scouting reports, you may have thought Thursday night's box score mixed up Kevin Labanc and Joe Thornton’s final stat lines.

Labanc, the supposed sniper, finished with three assists and just one goal -- the game-winner in overtime against the Vancouver Canucks. Thornton, the alleged assists man, scored two goals and picked up a single assist. 

What shouldn’t come as a surprise is that both players did significant damage on the power play. Thornton’s long been an elite player with an opponent (or two) sitting in the penalty box, and Labanc’s emerging as one. 

Only five players that have played a minimum of 50 minutes on the power play have scored points at a higher rate there than Labanc (9.19 points per 60 minutes, according to Corsica Hockey). He’s not padding his stats with secondary assists, either, as only the same number has scored primary points at a higher rate (7.15 per 60).

He’s in elite company, as the five players that score primary points on the power play at a higher rate are James Van Riemdsyk, Blake Wheeler, Brock Boeser, Filip Forsberg, and Steven Stamkos. Plus, only two players are picking up primary assists at a higher rate: Wheeler and Josh Bailey, the NHL’s assists leader entering Friday.

Perhaps most impressively, Labanc’s been productive in fairly limited minutes. He’s only seventh on the Sharks in total ice time on the power play. He has also played the fewest minutes of any player in the top 10 in primary scoring rate, nearly 18 fewer minutes than the next closest player.

Only three Sharks have scored more power play points than Labanc, and they’ve all played at least 40 more minutes on the power play. Thornton’s the only player with more primary power play points than Labanc, and he’s nearly doubled (110.73 minutes) the second-year forward’s ice time (58.78).

The 22-year-old’s been a pivotal part of the Sharks’ resurgent power play, which has now scored in each of the last seven games. Labanc’s assisted on four of San Jose’s last six power play goals, including two of three on Thursday. 

Labanc has faced his fair share of adversity this season, breaking a 23-game goalless drought against Vancouver and spending a brief stint in the AHL with the Barracuda. Now, Labanc’s carved out a niche, and has established himself as a top playmaker on what has become one of the league’s best power plays. 

The Sharks may have expected him to do so with his shot, rather than his passing ability, but they’ll surely take it either way.

NHL free agency: Erik Karlsson thanks Sharks in possible goodbye tweet

karlssonbyeap.jpg
AP

NHL free agency: Erik Karlsson thanks Sharks in possible goodbye tweet

The Erik Karlsson era could be coming to an end after only one season in San Jose. 

Karlsson becomes a free agent at the end of Stanley Cup Final. The Sharks' star defenseman sent a thank you note to the team's fans and the whole Bay Area on Friday. 

San Jose acquired Karlsson, who turns 29 on May 31, from the Senators for four players and two draft picks on Sept. 13, 2018. The two-time Norris Trophy award winner was named to his fourth straight NHL All-Star Game in his first season as a Shark. 

Karlsson played in 53 regular-season games this year, his lowest since the 2012-13 season. He tallied 45 points -- three goals, 42 assists. 

Injuries, however, played a large role in Karlsson's season. He missed 27 of the Sharks' final 33 regular-season games with various ailments. And he missed the Sharks' season-ending Game 6 loss to the Blues in the Western Conference final.

[RELATED: Karlsson expected to be pursued by Rangers]

Karlsson is expected to be pursued by multiple teams this offseason, including the Sharks. But he could have just said his last goodbye to The Tank and all its fans in San Jose.

Sharks take high road when discussing controversial calls in playoffs

sharkscallsusa.jpg
USATSI

Sharks take high road when discussing controversial calls in playoffs

SAN JOSE – Officiating became a very hot topic during the Sharks' postseason run – whether it was for calls that went in their favor or against them.

With their run at the Stanley Cup now over, Team Teal has more of an opportunity to reflect on some of those calls.

During exit interviews Thursday, the general attitude was that the refs are doing the best they can in the middle of an extremely fast sport.

“They’ve got a tough job to do,” Logan Couture said. “Growing up my dad was a referee. He ref’d lacrosse and hockey and I got to see firsthand that it’s not an easy job.”

San Jose became the focal point of scrutiny during the Western Conference final after Erik Karlsson scored a game-winning goal in Game 3 that appeared to be set up with a hand pass from Timo Meier.

After a major penalty set the Sharks up to score four power-play goals in Game 7 of their first-round series against the Golden Knights. and a too-many-men call swung play in the Sharks' favor against the Colorado Avalanche, the lack of a call on Meier prompted a few outlets to call the Sharks lucky. (Which led to a prickly reaction from head coach Peter DeBoer.)

Couture insisted luck or favor from the officials has nothing to do with it.

“They’re not trying to pick sides or screw anyone on the ice,” Couture continued. “They’re trying to do their job to the best of their abilities. I think we’re fortunate our league we have some very good officials – some really, really good guys. They’re doing the best they can and I think they’re doing a good job.”

What the team would like to see, however, is some consistency. Tomas Hertl was sidelined for Game 6 against the Blues after being hit in the head by Ivan Barbashev – a hit that received no in-game penalty or discipline from the league. Hertl said he thought Barabshev might’ve received discipline for hitting him in the head, but acknowledged the refs' job is a difficult one.

“For sure on the ice its always tough for the ref because the game is so fast,” Hertl said of the hit to his head. “It’s quick. Sometimes in playoffs they just let it go.”

The Sharks aren’t the only team whose postseason run was peppered with controversial officiating. But the high profile nature of the Western Conference final put several on-ice calls in the spotlight, especially with regards to San Jose’s players being hit in the head. This has brought up questions as to whether the league will make changes in the offseason. 

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson didn’t comment on exact calls when he spoke with the press during exit interviews. He did say, however, that he’s open to having those discussions.

“I’m on the competition committee, so I get the opportunity to speak on things like that,” Wilson said. “There are calls you’re going to like, calls you’re not going to like. Difficult job, officiating in this league. It’s our job to give them the tools they need to be the best they can be.”

[RELATED: Sharks emerge from playoff run with lengthy injury list]

How the competition committee talks shake out is anyone’s guess. Although, Wilson is expecting open and insightful discussions.

“Once we get to meetings, I like listening and hearing other people’s opinions,” Wilson said. “But I like to hear from officials who have to make those decisions on the ice, what they may need. We’re trying to do what’s right for the game. Whatever that is, we’ll discuss before any decision gets made.”