Sharks

Sharks' January schedule doesn't give them any favors with more travel

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Sharks' January schedule doesn't give them any favors with more travel

The Sharks relied heavily on November (11 wins) to compensate for their devastating October results (four wins).

Now here in December (maximum of three wins), they’ll need a strong showing in January (11 games) to keep any hopes of postseason contention alive.

But the first month of 2020 sets up much different than the 11th month of 2019.

November vs January

November featured 11 home games, and just four on the road. Time to practice and recuperate was abundant back then. The Sharks only left California twice, and the furthest east they traveled… was Arizona.

January is nearly the complete opposite. Seven games away from SAP Center, and the other four are on home ice. Games every other night for almost three full weeks means there won’t be much quality practice time in-between, which is especially imperative for the new coaching staff to address and implement strategic changes.  

Third week off

After nine games in 18 days of January, San Jose will see eight straight days without games. This is the result of All-Star Weekend and the NHL’s annual mandated break.

Could that long break turn out beneficial? Sure.  

Could it also be a momentum destroyer? Unfortunately, yes.

We don’t yet know what impact that stretch will have — only that’s it’s almost a guarantee there will be some tangible effects on the team.  

Sid, Ovi… and Pavelski

The matchups in January are not just difficult, they’re heavy. Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin at their barns. The defending Cup champion Blues, in St. Louis. And don’t sleep on that Western swing through Arizona, Colorado and Vancouver: three hungry Pacific division teams that aren’t anything like they used to be.

But the real interesting night will be Jan. 11 in San Jose. The return of former captain Joe Pavelski. His Dallas Stars are pretty much where they expected in the standings, facing a Sharks group that nobody predicted to see in last place in the Western Conference after Christmas. Emotions will run deeper, and different for this tilt.

[RELATED: Meier answers criticism with hat trick in Sharks' huge win]

Back-to-back body blows

Acclimation to the Eastern Time zone is already difficult enough. But San Jose’s ONLY back-to-back games in January start at 10 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. California time, respectively. 

There are no claims of unfairness, but Columbus and Washington will have distinct and inherent advantages in these games. San Jose in the last decade rarely has been themselves when faced with games that end before lunch does back home.

Sharks' Logan Couture avoids scare, returns to team in time of need

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Sharks' Logan Couture avoids scare, returns to team in time of need

The Sharks have been below .500 since Dec. 10, but you can trace the true death knell of San Jose's season back to the fractured ankle Logan Couture sustained in the second period of a 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 7.

Prior to that defeat, the Sharks were finding their stride, earning five out of a possible six points over their previous three games, all on the road. San Jose actually prevailed in its first two games after Couture's injury, but would go on to lose five of the next six, all but vanquishing what little playoff hopes the Sharks had left. It didn't help matters that Tomas Hertl tore ligaments in his knee during that stretch, as well.

Hertl was ruled out for the season. Couture, on the other hand, returned from a 17-game absence in San Jose's 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

Couture didn't figure into the scoring, but that's understandable considering it has been nearly seven weeks since he last practiced. He wasn't able to get a session in prior to Tuesday's loss, but regardless, interim coach Bob Boughner was glad to have the Sharks' captain back in the lineup.

"It was nice to see his name on the board," Boughner said of Couture. "After morning skate, he felt that there was a chance he could play. Obviously, he's still getting his feet underneath him. His game speed is off. He's still saying that he had two or three chances to score goals tonight, so it was good to see him back."

Arguably more important than the outcome of the game was the fact that Couture emerged from it relatively unscathed. He did get a brief scare late in the second period when he was forced to the locker room after taking a shot to the foot, but he was back on the ice for the start of the third.

True to character, Couture was his own harshest critic following the loss, pointing the finger at himself for the frustrating outcome.

"I wish I played a little bit better, but I'm okay," Couture explained. "It's disappointing because if I score those goals or those chances, we're probably still playing right now. So, tough one.

Couture described his best scoring chance as missing "by seven feet", and admitted the lack of practice time likely played into that. However, the captain understood his team needed him, even if he wasn't in top form.

"I was cleared," Couture said. "I still haven't gotten in a practice, so my hands I knew weren't going to be great, but I figured it's been a rough couple days."

[RELATED: Wilson excited to see what Sharks' young players can do]

Couture, obviously, was referring to the passing of the NHL trade deadline, which saw several of his longtime teammates -- Brenden Dillon, Patrick Marleau and Barclay Goodrow -- head to Eastern Conference contenders. The draft picks San Jose got back in those trades should help the franchise eventually return to contention, but in the meantime, it might be a tad lonely in the Sharks' locker room.

Less so now that Couture's back, at least.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned from rough 4-2 road loss vs. Flyers

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Sharks takeaways: What we learned from rough 4-2 road loss vs. Flyers

BOX SCORE

The Sharks came out of the trade deadline the same way they went into it, suffering a road loss to an Eastern Conference opponent in which San Jose wasn't all that competitive.

Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center, the Sharks fell behind the Philadelphia Flyers within the opening two minutes, and while they managed to go into the first intermission with the score tied, the latter two-thirds of the game were mostly controlled by the opposition. Philadelphia scored twice in the middle period, and the depleted San Jose lineup lacked the firepower to keep up, ultimately suffering a 4-2 defeat in the City of Brotherly Love.

With the loss, the Sharks conclude a winless four-game road trip in which they were outscored 13-6 and never tallied more than two goals in any single contest.

Here are three takeaways from another loss that revealed San Jose's shortcomings:

Not Burns' best

Several of the Sharks' best players are either injured or now playing for other teams. One of the few that remains in San Jose's lineup -- defenseman Brent Burns -- is unlikely to favorably remember Tuesday's defeat.

The Flyers' first goal of the game came on a power play resulting from a Burns' hooking penalty. He was also on the ice for both of Philadelphia's goals in the second period, at least one of which he likely could have prevented if not for a bad turnover. Offensively, Burns had a rather pedestrian performance for his standards, finishing with zero points and two shots on goal.

In Burns' defense, he has taken on a larger load of the minutes in the aftermath of Erik Karlsson's season-ending injury, averaging nearly 27 minutes per game since the fellow former Norris Trophy winner went down on Feb. 14. That said, San Jose will be at a talent deficit throughout most of its remaining games, and if Burns is struggling, that will be too tough to overcome more often than not.

Ears burning

Prior to Tuesday's game, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson explained that he's looking forward to seeing what some of San Jose's younger, less-proven players can do with their increased opportunities throughout the remainder of the season. Although the Sharks lost to the Flyers, Wilson has to be pleased with certain individual performances.

Of the few youngsters Wilson specifically mentioned by name, Joel Kellman was included. The 25-year-old winger from Sweden didn't take long to show why, pulling San Jose even with the Sharks' first goal of the night. 

Defenseman Jake Middleton got the primary assist on Kellman's goal, just as he did on Tim Heed's goal in the first game of the road trip. Tuesday marked Middleton's fourth NHL game since being called up from the AHL last week, as it did for Noah Gregor, who managed to notch his second goal of the season with a wicked slapshot in the third period.

Kellman, Middleton and Gregor are the type of players Wilson was talking about prior to the game. Afterward, the GM has to like what he saw from them.

[RELATED: Wilson pleased with Sharks' haul, but work is just starting]

Dell dropping off

Tuesday marked the fourth loss in goaltender Aaron Dell's last five starts, over which he has allowed 19 goals against. That's not a good trend, but frankly, it's not as big of a deal as it would have been a few weeks ago.

Heading into the trade deadline, the Sharks had every reason to see what they could get for the pending unrestricted free agent. Had Dell's struggles occurred earlier, it likely would have diminished whatever San Jose got in return for him. Well, no trade was made, and Dell will remain with the Sharks for the duration of the season.

That is likely to be the extent of it, however. Assuming San Jose is unable to unload Martin Jones' hefty contract, it is difficult to see a situation in which Dell re-signs with the Sharks in the offseason. As such, he needs to get back on track, not to build up his value as a trade piece, but rather, as a free agent.