Sharks get 'emotional leader' Thornton back; Couture ditches cage

Sharks get 'emotional leader' Thornton back; Couture ditches cage

SAN JOSE – Joe Thornton almost certainly isn’t at 100 percent. If he were, then he would have been one of the six skaters on the ice in the closing seconds of Sunday’s Game 3 at SAP Center, as the Sharks were desperately seeking the equalizing goal that never came in a 1-0 loss to the Oilers.

Still, Thornton was a welcome addition to the Sharks’ lineup just two weeks after his left knee appeared to bend backwards on April 2 against Vancouver when he collided with the Canucks’ Michael Chaput.

The first period was probably evidence enough that Thornton is, in fact, the heartbeat of the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks played perhaps their most physical first period of the season, getting credit for an incredible (and, yes, generous) 34 hits and dominating the game territorially, even if they couldn’t solve Cam Talbot. 

"I thought he was great. He's our emotional leader in there,” Pete DeBoer said. “A gutsy effort by him. There was just no keeping him out. I thought he came out and had a great game for us for not playing in a while.”

Joe Pavelski said: “It was a nice boost for us, definitely. Coming home, playing in this building, you could feel the excitement, the energy. Having him coming back as well, you could tell. You could feel it in warmups. It was definitely a boost.”

Although the Sharks took Game 1 of their series with the Oilers, they were badly outplayed throughout much of Game 2 in Edmonton. Pavelski commented that the compete level wasn’t where it needed to be.

Getting the outgoing and always chatty Thornton back on the bench offered a surge in that regard.

“It was great having Jumbo back. He’s an emotional leader, he’s a vocal leader,” Couture said. “He’s a guy that, it’s incredible what he plays through. The heart that guy has is pretty unbelievable.”

Thornton, as is typical, didn’t go into much detail about how he felt. He finished with two shots on goal, four shot attempts and two hits in 16:27 of ice time. He took just two faceoffs.

“I felt fine. I felt great. Feel healthy, and ready to go for Game 4 now,” Thornton said.

* * *

In a shocking development, Couture decided to forego the full cage that was protecting his injured mouth with a standard visor. The center had commented numerous times that he was having trouble seeing the puck with the extra facial gear after a deflected puck on March 25 did major damage.

“Figured enough damage has already been done,” said Couture, who will require extensive dental work in the offseason. “If I get hit again, I’m just the unluckiest guy in the world.”

Couture said he got the OK from the Sharks’ medical staff to ditch the cage “about 15 minutes before warm-ups.”

Like Thornton, though, Couture surely isn’t operating at 100 percent. He’s managed one shot on goal in each of the three games in the series.

“I can’t put percentages on how I feel,” he said. “Everyone’s hurt in the playoffs. No one is 100 percent. I’m working my way back into it. I felt better tonight. Obviously would have liked to create some more offense, but I felt pretty good.”

Sharks need better goaltending with NHL playoffs just around corner


Sharks need better goaltending with NHL playoffs just around corner

SAN JOSE – Goaltending has been a hot topic all season for the Sharks. Even when they’ve been winning games, the performance between the pipes has been under scrutiny.

Now, with the playoffs just a couple weeks away and San Jose tryng to snap a season-long five-game winning streak, the performance of Sharks goaltenders Martin Jones and Aaron Dell is yet again being scrutinized.

There’s no mistaking it – they need to be better.

Even Sharks coach Peter DeBoer, who isn’t one to call out players after a loss, seemed particularly perturbed with the Sharks' play in net. He said just as much after San Jose's fifth straight defeat, a 4-3 loss to the lowly Anaheim Ducks on Friday.

“I don’t want to sugarcoat it, but I think we had them for six chances, and they scored four goals,” he said at the time. “You can’t lay it at one guy's feet, but you can’t win in this league with [an.800 to .900] save percentage. We’ve got to find a way to get an extra save, and on (the other) end we’ve got to find a way to get another goal.”

DeBoer isn’t wrong. Jones might be tied for third place among all NHL goalies with 34 wins under his belt, but his .898 save percentage is 58th out of 69 goalies who have played at least 10 games. Dell's .887 save percentage is 67th. Combined, the Sharks' .891 save percentage is last in the league.

In March, a month in which the Sharks have gone 6-4-1, San Jose has scored 37 goals and allowed 36. Those aren’t stats you want to see heading into the postseason.

To be fair, all the blame can’t be laid at the feet of the netminders, much like DeBoer said. Defensive breakdowns in front of the net don’t do Jones and Dell any favors – and with a banged-up blue line that’s missing Erik Karlsson and Radim Simek, those mistakes become more apparent.

It also doesn’t help the Sharks' offense has dried up, scoring no more than three goals in each of the last five losses. Leading goal-scorer Joe Pavelski has missed the last three, making matters worse.

But San Jose still, as DeBoer mentioned, needs to get more key saves from its goaltenders. 

[RELATED: Why Sharks believe five-game skid will strengthen them]

Now, with the Sharks having secured a playoff spot over the past week, the last few games of the season are going to be focused on being ready for the first round. In addition to getting the lineup healthier, the Sharks also have to focus on allowing fewer goals. A better defensive effort will go a long way, but Jones and Dell also have to buckle down and stop the puck more if San Jose is to hang on to home-ice advantage in the first round.

Don’t expect the goaltending conversation to cool off during these last weeks of the regular season. Goaltending is going to be a major focus as the playoffs get closer. If the Sharks want to still be playing hockey in May and June, it simply has to be better than it is right now.

Sharks not satisfied with single point, believe skid will strengthen them

Sharks not satisfied with single point, believe skid will strengthen them

Well, the Sharks certainly made it interesting. Every time the Ducks scored a goal on Friday evening, the Sharks came back and were able to tie things up. They even got the game-tying goal late in the third period that took their contest into overtime – at least, before they lost 4-3.

Perhaps at a different time of year, getting their first point in five games would feel better. Not on this night. 

The focus remains on the work to be done with just seven games left in the regular season. For Team Teal, they need to clean their game up and get back into the win column.

“It’s better than nothing, but overall, we’re just not finding ways to win games now,” Timo Meier told the media in Anaheim regarding the single point. “We’ve got to find a way to win games. It’s an important time of the year. Playoffs are really close.”

San Jose put a better effort on the ice on Friday than they did the previous evening in LA against the Kings, but the opportunistic Ducks were able to bury more of their chances,

"I don’t think we gave them very much," Peter DeBoer said. "Every chance they got, they stuck in the net, though."

DeBoer was more critical of the team a second night in a row, and rightfully so. Despite outshooting the opposition, the Sharks weren’t able to find the back of the net enough times. They allowed two goals while playing on the penalty kill and tallied 14 giveaways. Plus, outside of Meier’s power-play marker, San Jose still went one-for-five on the man advantage. Despite tying the score up three times, the Sharks couldn’t keep the Ducks from responding.

Clearly, all areas of the game need to be tweaked.

“We’ve got to find a way to get an extra save, and on (the other) end we’ve got to find a way to get another goal,” DeBoer said. “We could’ve used a power-play goal tonight -- another one.”

Perhaps the only silver lining, as Meier put it, is that the Sharks are going through this stretch now instead of once they get into the playoffs. San Jose is still trying to get some of its key players healthy and into the lineup so they can make a deep playoff run with the lines and pairs they want. The goal, at least at the moment, is to make sure this five-game skid is a lesson to learn from and not a prelude to the future.

"Get stronger as a team, get tighter as a group, and learn," Meier said. "It’s going to make us stronger going into the playoffs because there are going to be lots of ups and downs coming up. It’s going to make us stronger and we’ve got to react the right way.”