Sharks

Kevin Labanc's surprising emergence on the power play

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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.

Sharks' Radim Simek improving, but not expected to play on road trip

Sharks' Radim Simek improving, but not expected to play on road trip

The Sharks made good use of their three-game homestand, earning four of six possible points against high-quality competition to get back on track after a miserable start to the season. San Jose's improved play has coincided with Patrick Marleau's arrival and Evander Kane's return to the lineup, and the Sharks will attempt to build off their recent momentum as they head off on a five-game road trip.

Unfortunately for San Jose, it doesn't sound as if the team will get back further reinforcements for the games in Buffalo, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Boston. The Athletic's Kevin Kurz reported that defenseman Radim Simek participated in some practice drills Wednesday, but is unlikely to play on the upcoming road trip, according to head coach Peter DeBoer.

Simek underwent knee surgery in March and has been rehabbing ever since. He's been somewhat of a secret weapon for San Jose, as the Sharks went 29-9-3 with him in the lineup last season, and allowed lower rates of shot attempts, shots and chances with him on the ice in 5-on-5 situations than when he wasn't. San Jose has proceeded cautiously with Simek and won't rush him back, but the fact that he was participating in more physical drills Wednesday bodes well for a return in the relatively near future.

Speaking of physicality, that's an area DeBoer believes the Sharks have been lacking in recently, and one that both Simek and another on-the-mend defenseman can help out in. Dalton Prout has been out of the lineup since the first game of the season, but that's bound to change soon, according to the Mercury News' Curtis Pashelka.

With both Prout and Simek expected to rejoin the team soon, it begs the question as to who they'll replace. Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brenden Dillon aren't going anywhere, and rookie Mario Ferraro has played well beyond his years. Tim Heed has been in and out of the dog house, and the most likely scenario is that Prout and/or Simek takes his spot on the third pair.

[RELATED: Exclusive: Marleau reflects on Sharks return in ride to SAP]

The Sharks have done a good job to get their feet back under them. They won't be at full strength for the upcoming road trip, but clearly, they're getting closer.

What Sharks like about way they are playing despite loss to Sabres

What Sharks like about way they are playing despite loss to Sabres

SAN JOSE - Saturday night's Sharks-Sabres matchup ended up being an entertaining one for sure, with a lot of the action taking place in the final 20 minutes of the game.

And even though San Jose lost 4-3 and had their three-game winning-streak snapped, they still believe that their overall game is headed in the right direction. 

"When I look at seven or eight games that we've played, that's probably one of the better 60-minute efforts we've got," Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said afterward. "I think we're getting better. I can tell you, I like where our game's at now a lot better than I did two weeks ago."

Captain Logan Couture agreed, although he wanted to see a different result in Saturday's contest.

"I thought we played well, we could've done some things better," Couture said, giving the opposition the credit they deserve. "They're a very good team. It's no fluke over there that they have their record. They're playing very good hockey. We had an opportunity to beat them, just one more mistake on our end tonight."

One of the biggest problems San Jose ran into was penalty trouble in the second period. Sure, the penalty kill remains dominant and was able to keep Buffalo's potent power play from finding the back of the net. In fact, San Jose's special teams overall played a huge factor in them keeping the game close. But as Couture explained, being down a skater for too long can have a negative effect on a team's even-strength game -- even one with as good of a PK as San Jose has right now.

"It's tough to get in a rhythm," Couture explained. "There were so many penalties. For our line, especially, I think we only had two even-strength shifts in the second."

But the Sharks are happy with how they pushed back late in the game to keep things close. After the Sabres jumped out to a 2-1 lead at the end of the second period, the Sharks began creating more chances in their own end to keep the visitors from running away with the game. They traded tallies with Buffalo thanks to two big goals from Tomas Hertl and Marcus Sorensen. Even after Zemgus Girgensons buried the Sabres' fourth goal on the evening, San Jose continued to press and get looks in front of the net as the final few minutes of play expired.

"I liked our resiliency," DeBoer said. "I thought we battled all night."

[RELATED: Marleau reflects on Sharks return]

The Sharks will get another crack at the Sabres this upcoming Tuesday as they kick off an East Coast swing in Buffalo. San Jose might not be very happy with the mistakes they made on Saturday night, but they can at least see that their overall game his trending in the right direction.

"We still had a couple of bad mistakes, but we have to learn from it and be better," Hertl said. "It's kind of a tough loss but we have to bounce back. We (play) against them in the next game so we have to be ready for them."