Sharks

NHL Gameday: Sharks, Wild both reeling ahead of final meeting

NHL Gameday: Sharks, Wild both reeling ahead of final meeting

Programming note – Sharks-Wild coverage starts today at 5:30 p.m. on NBCSN

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 42-23-7, 91 points, 1st Pacific Division
Wild: 43-22-6, 92 points, 2nd Central Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***The standings say it’s a potential Western Conference Final preview, but lately the Sharks and Wild look anything but dangerous. They have lost a combined eight straight games in regulation, as the Wild have dropped five in a row and the Sharks their last three.

***San Jose has scored just two goals in its last three games in losses to St. Louis, Anaheim and Dallas. The Sharks were shut out by the Stars on Monday night, 1-0.

“We’ve just got to stick with it, keep going, and keep working,” Joe Pavelski told reporters after the game. “These points are important, there’s no time to hang our head. This team never does, we’ve just got to find a way to be a little bit better.”

The Sharks are playing in the second of a four-game road trip. They are 9-3-1 this season in the second of back-to-backs, and have lost four games in a row just once this season (Feb. 4-11, 0-1-3).

***The Wild are struggling on both ends of the ice during its losing streak, averaging 2.20 goals-per game and allowing an average of 3.80 goals in its last five. On Sunday in Winnipeg, the Wild rallied from a 4-0 deficit to tie it only to lose, 5-4.

Minnesota has won both of its games over San Jose in the season series, on Jan. 5 in San Jose (5-4) and March 5 at Xcel Energy Center (3-1). They are 23-10-1 at home, and are still on pace for their best regular season in franchise history.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Timo Meier. Playing in his first NHL game since Feb. 15 on Monday, the rookie started on the fourth line against Dallas before he was moved up to the third line with Tomas Hertl and Joonas Donskoi. He finished with one shot on goal (and seven shot attempts) in nine minutes and seven seconds of ice time.

Wild: Eric Staal. In his first season with the Wild, the 32-year-old center has posted four goals and one assist against the Sharks this season, including two goals in each of the last two games. He has seven goals and eight points in his last nine games overall, and will be skating in his 1,001st career game tonight.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Patrick Marleau – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Mikkel Boedker – Logan Couture – Joel Ward
Joonas Donskoi – Tomas Hertl – Marcus Sorensen
Micheal Haley – Chris Tierney – Timo Meier

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones (likely starter)
Aaron Dell

Wild
Jason Zucker – Mikko Koivu – Mikael Granlund
Zach Parise – Eric Staal – Charlie Coyle
Nino Niederreiter – Martin Hanzal – Jason Pominville
Chris Stewart – Erik Haula – Jordan Schroeder

Ryan Suter – Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella – Matt Dumba
Jonas Brodin – Nate Prosser

Devan Dubnyk (starter)
Darcy Kuemper

INJURIES

Sharks: Chris Tierney (flu) is probable. Jannik Hansen (upper body) aand Melker Karlsson (lower body) are out.

Wild: Christian Folin (upper body) and Victor Bartley (torn triceps) are out.

QUOTEABLE

“The chances are there, we’ve got to bear down. We’ve got to get one dirty or ugly around the net, we’ve got to get one on the power play. Some way, somehow, take a little pressure off of the group because it’s hard to win when you’re only getting one or no goals like we’ve gotten in the last couple of games.” – Pete DeBoer

How Logan Couture plans to learn, grow from first season as Sharks captain

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How Logan Couture plans to learn, grow from first season as Sharks captain

Logan Couture was an obvious choice to succeed Joe Pavelski after his four seasons as Sharks captain. The veteran center was an alternate captain during Pavelski’s time leading the locker room. He’s a long-tenured Shark with steady on-ice performance and penchant for performance in the clutch. He has the work ethic and temperament required of such a post so, after Pavelski signed a three-year with Dallas, Couture eventually had the “C” stitched on his sweater.

Couture’s first season leading the team was rockier than expected. The Sharks went from Western Conference finalist to near cellar dweller in a flash, with the team adjusting to Pete DeBoer’s in-season firing after a sluggish start and unable to recover while beset by injuries to star players. That included Couture, who missed 17 games with a fractured ankle.

The locker room was admittedly tense during an unexpected downturn, but Couture worked hard to keep the squad focused on playing together under interim head coach Bob Boughner.

The 30-year old has had time to reflect on his first NHL experience as captain since the league hit pause on the 2019-20 season over the coronavirus pandemic and the distance has provided perspective. While the season went awry, Couture vowed to use those bad times as a way to learn and grow as a leader.

“It was obviously a learning experience in a lot of different situations, many of which I had never been in as a player,” Couture said Thursday in a video conference with Sharks reporters. “We had a coach get fired. We went through tough times, a lot of guys got hurt and we lost a lot of games in difficult ways. Although it was a very difficult, difficult season, that I can learn a lot from situations we were in as a team and I was in individually. My goal is to become a better teammate, person and player from this past year.”

[RELATED: Sharks GM Doug Wilson discusses odd end of season, coaching search]

Couture believes the Sharks had a lackluster training camp that led to a poor start and things spiraled from there. Losing consistently was a new experience for most, considering the Sharks had missed the playoffs only once since the 2003-04 season. The new and difficult experience was uncomfortable, and Couture admits the players didn’t always handle things well.

“When you’re losing and things are going your way, frustrating builds and it builds quickly,” Couture said. “With us, a lot of guys in our room have never gone through a season like that. Some may have years ago, but not recently. From top to bottom I don’t think anyone handled it the best possible way. I’m obviously in that group. There’s a lot that I think I can learn from.

“All we can do now is move forward, come together and learn from this. Everyone needs to buy in. Get a good training camp underneath us and get going from there. Everyone will learn from this year and it’ll make us stronger.”

[RELATED: Logan Couture believes Sharks' ambition must be high in long offseason]

The captain’s lieutenants feel the same push to help the team stay together and improve quickly after a lost season where they didn’t even qualify for a 24-team modified playoff to be played once the season restarts.

Tomas Hertl also dealt with a knee injury ending his season in late January, but still feels he could’ve done more from a leadership perspective.

“I tried to be the same guy and lead, but I know I can be better in that role,” Hertl said. “I should be Logan’s second hand and help him out more and more. I think I learned a lot as well this past season about the importance of being a leader. I think we should all be a little bit better, especially in a situation like we were in where we struggled. All 20 guys should work as one. It doesn’t matter if you’re an assistant or a captain. Everyone should work hard to keep the team together. I really want to be better for Logan because he has been there for me from the start of my career.”

Logan Couture believes Sharks' ambition must be high in long offseason

Logan Couture believes Sharks' ambition must be high in long offseason

The Sharks will miss the NHL playoffs for the first time in five seasons, and just the second time since the 2002-03 campaign.

They struggled so much and things got so bad they didn’t even qualify for a modified 24-team playoff format designed to wrap the season after the coronavirus pandemic forced the NHL to hit pause in mid-March.

Disqualification is an odd feeling for most veteran Sharks, especially after a season that started with promise ended in disaster.

San Jose's path to redemption won’t start for months. It may be well into the winter before next season ramps up, meaning the Sharks have plenty of time on their hands to ponder what went wrong and how to make it right.

They want to find old form at the next available opportunity. Logan Couture believes that should push them through a long and uncertain offseason.

“As a group, we know that every single person needs to be better next year,” the Sharks captain said Thursday on a video conference with Sharks reporters. “I think, with this long break, it adds time for guys to get prepared. Motivation should be at an all-time high for everyone because you want to come back and prove it was just a fluke. We believe that we’re a good team. We have all the pieces in the room to be successful. We just need to go out and do it.”

That’s not outside the realm of possibility, though there are as many -- or more -- question marks surrounding the team than in recent memory.

Those will be answered by management as the Sharks try and build the depth required to weather a long season and, if all goes right, playoff intensity.

[RELATED: Sharks' Hertl promises to be better than before injury]

The current issue is to keep players focused and training on their own so they’re ready to return when the time comes.

“Players are creatures of habit,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports California’s Brodie Brazil. “The cycles of training and preparing of training and getting ready. This will be the longest time off our team and players have ever had.

"And you’ve got to use that time very well. You don’t want players under-training, or over-training. We’ve talked with our strength and medical people, trying to figure out the best way to get the programs in place so when they come into camp, they’re ready to go.”