Lucic on banged up Sharks: 'Definitely want to let them know that you’re there'

Lucic on banged up Sharks: 'Definitely want to let them know that you’re there'

EDMONTON – Will they or won’t they?

The question as to whether Logan Couture and Joe Thornton would be ready for Wednesday night’s playoff opener at Rogers Place wasn’t answered by anyone on the Sharks’ side, but Oilers coach Todd McLellan seemed to have a pretty good idea.

“Logan will play for sure. Jumbo, unless they cut his leg off, we’ll see him at some point in the series,” said McLellan, in his second season with the Oilers after seven in San Jose. “He’s an old school guy that will find his way into the series. I don’t know if he’ll play in Game 1, but we plan as if they’re in.”

Both Couture and Thornton skated on Wednesday, and indications remain that Couture will likely play while Thornton is more of a question mark. Couture continues to wear a full cage to protect his injured mouth, while Thornton still looks a bit tentative while dealing with what appears to be a left knee injury.

Asked how he felt, Couture, who has been out since March 25, said: “Felt great. Legs feel good. I feel rested, two-and-a-half weeks of rest. I felt pretty good this morning.”

Thornton, who was injured on April 2, said he would be “upset” if he weren’t in the lineup.

“Felt good. We’ll see tonight,” Thornton said. “You want to play. It’s the best time of year. We’re doing everything we can to play tonight.”

Pete DeBoer said the decision to play rests with Thornton alone.

“Joe is going to make that decision, and nobody else,” DeBoer said. “He’ll tell us – and it’s not just whether he can play, but can he play at a level that he can help us? He knows his body better than anybody, he knows his game better than anybody. When he’s ready to go, he’ll go, and hopefully that’s tonight.”

* * *

It’s no secret in the Oilers’ dressing room, of course, that the Sharks’ top two centers won’t be at 100 percent even if they get into the lineup. Edmonton’s roster features some rugged players that could potentially be a little extra physical against Couture and Thornton.

Milan Lucic is one of them. This is the second straight season the power forward be facing San Jose in the first round, after the Sharks dispatched of Lucic’s Kings in the first round in 2016.

“Whether they’re healthy or not healthy, you try to be physical on guys no matter what,” said Lucic, who had a hat trick against the Sharks in the most recent meeting on April 6. 

“You don’t go out of your way to hurt anyone, but you definitely want to let them know that you’re there. We’re just focused on our game and what we need to do. Just be hard on key guys, whether they’re healthy or unhealthy.”

When Lucic’s quotes were relayed to DeBoer, he said: “We’ve seen that before. We saw the same out of Milan Lucic last year in the first round against L.A. You’ve got to play through that stuff. We expect it, we’ll deal with it like we always have.”

Lucic has a history with Couture, earning a match penalty in the season opener on Oct. 7, 2015 when Couture upended him in the neutral zone and Lucic promptly charged across the ice to let Couture know he didn’t like the hit.

Does he expect Lucic, or others, to come after him a bit?

“I don’t think so,” Couture said. “The goal for any playoff team is to after the other team’s top guys, be physical. The last thing they want to do is take penalties, so I don’t think they’re going to do anything special."

Erik Karlsson, Sharks can learn from P.K. Subban's first Predators season


Erik Karlsson, Sharks can learn from P.K. Subban's first Predators season

The Sharks are in a position the Nashville Predators are familiar with.

San Jose is 9-6-3 in 18 games after acquiring two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson in a blockbuster trade. Two years ago, Nashville was 8-7-3 in 18 games after acquiring Norris winner P.K. Subban in a blockbuster trade. 

The parallels are obvious. They’re both right-handed, puck-moving defensemen with accomplished resumes who switched conferences. 

But the circumstances -- and the players themselves -- are not identical. The Sharks acquired Karlsson on the eve of training camp, while the Predators landed Subban before the start of free agency two summers ago. Subban largely filled the role of the defenseman he was traded for (Shea Weber), while Karlsson’s arrival rearranged a depth chart that featured another Norris Trophy winner in Brent Burns. 

[RELATED: Where Sharks stand in Pacific]

What may be the biggest difference, however, is that Karlsson is not off to the same start offensively that Subban was.

Subban came out of the gates firing. He scored on his first shot on goal -- and second attempt -- with the Predators. In his first 18 games, Subban scored 13 points, including seven on the power play. 

Karlsson, meanwhile, is still searching for his first goal with the Sharks. He picked up seven assists in his first 11 games, but was held off the scoresheet in each of his last seven games. That’s not for a lack of trying, though. 

In his first 18 games with the Sharks, Karlsson fired 52 pucks on net. Subban, meanwhile, had 42 shots through his first 18 games. Five-on-five, Karlsson is actually shooting at a higher rate at this point with the Sharks than Subban was with the Predators.

5v5 stats, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick
  Karlsson (2018-19) Subban (2016-17)
Shots/60 7.1 4.55
CF/60 19.12 8.56
FF/60 11.11 6.19
SCF/60 3.46 1.28
HDCF/60 0.18 0.36

What’s been the biggest difference in their respective starts? Individual finishing. 

Subban scored on eight percent of his five-on-five shots in his first 18 games with the Predators, while his teammates scored on 3.9 percent of theirs with him on the ice. Karlsson, so far, has the opposite problem. He didn’t score on any of his 39 five-on-five shots, and his teammates scored on 8.2 percent of theirs. 

Finishing made the difference on the power play, too. Although Karlsson didn’t shoot nearly as much as Subban on the man advantage through 18 games, he wasn’t as lucky, either. Subban scored on two of his 14 shots, while Karlsson scored on none of his eight. 

Subban and Karlsson's respective starts both show how volatile a small sample size can be. Karlsson scored on 6.8 percent of his shots in all situations entering this season, and would already have about three goals -- 3.6, to be exact, but we’ll round down -- if he converted at that rate. Subban, meanwhile, entered his first season in Nashville with a 5.8 percent career shooting percentage. Yet, he scored on 11.9 percent of his shots at the start of his Predators tenure. 

Ultimately, Subban finished the season shooting closer to what was his career average. He converted on 5.0 percent of his shots in his final 48 games, scoring as many goals (five) as he did in his first 18 appearances.

The best predictor of the rest of Subban’s first season in Nashville proved to be his own career. That doesn’t mean the same thing is guaranteed to happen to Karlsson in San Jose, but the Sharks surely wouldn’t mind to see it turn out that way.

Where Sharks stand in crowded Pacific Division early in NHL season


Where Sharks stand in crowded Pacific Division early in NHL season

SAN JOSE -- Players aren't necessarily looking at the standings 18 games into the NHL season. Every team is battling for points and trying to improve.

“We have a lot of things we need to fix in our game, so that’s what we’re concentrating on,” Sharks winger Joonas Donskoi told NBC Sports California over the weekend when asked how closely the team was keeping tabs on their opponents’ standings position.

That isn’t to say San Jose is unaware of the tough competition around them, particularly as this tough six-game homestand rolls on.

“It’s just about us, nobody else, but we also have to be ready,” forward Tomas Hertl said. “Because the teams that are coming, they play really good hockey.”

The Sharks got their first dose of that Sunday night when the Calgary Flames visited the South Bay. San Jose picked up a 3-1 win, grinding on both ends of the ice to defeat a Pacific Division rival. Looking around, that’s exactly what the Sharks will have to continue doing. 

The Pacific has been rather unpredictable at this early point in the season, and with three of their next six contests occurring against division rivals, the Sharks’ push to play a better all-around game will have to remain constant.

The division has looked odd since the season got underway, with unexpected teams doing surprisingly well. The Vancouver Canucks, whom the Sharks will host the day after Thanksgiving, have shocked the league with their impressive start. In their first campaign of the post-Sedins era, the Canucks have roared out to a 10-6-2 record, with two separate three-win streaks in the mix. Keep in mind, though, that the Canucks have just a 2-2-0 record against the rest of the division and they’re yet to face the Sharks, Anaheim Ducks or Los Angeles Kings.

Speaking of, the Kings currently occupy the bottom rung of the division ladder. Since losing to the Sharks in their season opener on Oct. 5, L.A. has won just five of 16 games on the season. Battling through early season injuries and getting a new head coach in Willie Desjardins doesn’t appear to be doing much to invigorate the group, either, which has looked uninspired through the first month of the season.

[RELATED: Kings fire coach John Stevens, name ex-Shark Marco Sturm assistant]

Shocking still is that the Vegas Golden Knights have only a few more points than the Kings at this point. Critics and spectators alike kept waiting for the Knights to come down to earth during their unprecedented inaugural season. Then the 2018-19 campaign got underway, and Vegas has had to deal with injuries to top players such as Nate Schmidt, Eric Haula and Paul Stastny. That has put a lot of pressure between the pipes, and Marc-Andre Fleury simply can’t carry the team on his own. It’s anyone’s guess how Vegas will look when San Jose travels to Sin City on Nov. 24.

The rest of the division around the Sharks is even harder to figure out. The Edmonton Oilers, whom the Sharks will host before Turkey Day, have put together a lopsided campaign thus far -- including their current four-game losing streak -- and have yet to face a Pacific Division team. Down in the O.C., the Ducks overcame early season injuries to jump out to a raucous start, then took a tumble and lost seven in a row. 

The Arizona Coyotes, whom the Sharks have not played, are finding amazing success on special teams with a sneaky power play and the only penalty kill in the league that’s better than San Jose’s. Finally, there’s the Flames, who have run into the issue of not playing a strong enough defensive game in front of their goalie -- an issue with which the Sharks recently became acquainted.

The Sharks tightened up their game against those same Flames on Sunday night, but that’s just the start of their fight against the rest of the Pacific. They'll have to bash through three more games on their current homestand, as it turns out, before dueling an unpredictable Oilers team on Nov. 20.