Sharks' Logan Couture confident team can close gap during injury rehab

Sharks' Logan Couture confident team can close gap during injury rehab

Logan Couture can't catch a break.

In the last few years, the Sharks captain has undergone severe oral surgery to essentially rebuild his mouth, broken his right fibula, suffered from arterial bleeding and, most recently, fractured his left ankle.

"This isn't as bad," Couture told NBC Sports California's Brodie Brazil. "At least I can drive my car and do that and get around a little bit with this scooter."

The injury occurred in San Jose's 3-2 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues last week when Couture went awkwardly into the boards after a collision with defenseman Vince Dunn. Couture immediately grabbed for his left knee, but it wasn't until he got back to the locker room when he realized the full extent of the damage.

"I got my stuff off, my skates off," Couture described, "and I couldn't stand on my left foot, so I figured there was something wrong. Got x-rays done right in St. Louis. Nothing came up so thought maybe I got lucky and didn't break anything, but had an MRI the following day and it showed up on there that there was a fracture.

"So, pretty disappointing to hear that news from our doctor."

The injury is expected to keep Couture out up to six weeks, which would force him to miss a large portion of the remainder of the regular season as the Sharks attempt to climb back into the playoff race. That's difficult for him to accept, but the fact that the team recently has taken a step forward makes it a slightly easier pill to swallow.

"It's tough," Couture said. "It's tough to sit out any games. But it does make it easier that we're playing better hockey. We're playing the way that we should and the way that we can win hockey games, so that makes it a little bit easier. I've got confidence in the guys to go out and win some games and hopefully by the time I get back, we're still in the race and close to a playoff spot."

After losing 6-3 to the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday, the Sharks currently sit eight points back of the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference, with four teams to leapfrog between them and the Winnipeg Jets. It's been a disappointing season thus far for San Jose, and a challenging one for Couture in his first season as captain.

"It's been difficult," he explained. "It is just a letter on the jersey. I'm fortunate here that there's a lot of guys that have been captains and guys that have led teams before, but it's tough. When you're going through tough times, it really shows the character of each individual. It's been a difficult year for a lot guys, as a team, but I think we've gotten through the toughest part of our year.

"I think we've turned a corner these last two weeks and we're finding out really, truly what type of team we are. We've still got 30-something games left to make a run here, so I'm looking forward to seeing how we do it."

[RELATED: Couture takes responsibility for fractured left ankle]

While Couture will have to rely on his teammates to close the gap in the standings while he recovers, he doesn't expect to be limited when he returns.

"As long as the bone makes a full recovery, then I should be fine." snubs Sharks-Golden Knights Game 7 as best game of 2010s

USATSI snubs Sharks-Golden Knights Game 7 as best game of 2010s named a Game 7 ending 5-4 and involving a three-goal comeback, two division rivals and an overtime winner as the best game of the 2010s.

It just wasn't the one with the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights. and International staff members chose the Boston Bruins' Game 7 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference first-round series during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the game of the decade. In a 9:18 span, the Bruins erased a 4-1 deficit to force overtime and Patrice Bergeron scored the winner 6:05 into the extra frame. 

An epic comeback in a game between two "Original Six" rivals is, on paper, worthy of the crown. But Sharks-Golden Knights is more deserving. 

For one, San Jose and Vegas were much closer in terms of quality than Boston and Toronto. Yes, the Golden Knights jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the 2019 Western Conference first-round series and fewer standings points separated the Bruins and Maple Leafs (five) than the Sharks and Knights (eight). However, the 2013 Maple Leafs greatly benefited from the lockout-shortened 48 game schedule, making the playoffs despite being the NHL's worst puck-possession team.

The Sharks and Golden Knights, on the other hand, were both legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Both finished the regular season in the NHL's top three in terms of shot share and shot quality. Had Vegas beaten San Jose, it's likely the expansion franchise would have played in a second Western Conference final in as many years. 

What unfolded on the ice in the third period in Boston doesn't hold a candle to the third period in San Jose last April. Then-captain Joe Pavelski's head bled as the result of a fluky collision with Golden Knights forwards Paul Stastny and Cody Eakin, leading to a highly disputed five-minute major penalty. The Sharks then matched an NHL record with four power-play goals on the non-releasable penalty, nearly blowing the roof off SAP Center. 

A 3-0 deficit turned into a 4-3 lead, but the Sharks couldn't escape regulation with a win. Then-Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant pulled goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and iced six forwards when Jonathan Marchessault scored the game-tying goal with 47 seconds remaining in the third period. That set up an overtime that lasted nearly 20 minutes before Barclay Goodrow sent San Jose to the second round, and the Sharks' win left the Golden Knights with a summer of animosity that made Vegas' decision to replace Gallant with fired San Jose coach Peter DeBoer so much more shocking. 

[RELATED: How struggles in faceoff circle plagued Sharks on disastrous road trip]

To recap: Game 7 of Sharks-Golden Knights included one of the most controversial (or worst, if you ask Golden Knights fans) calls in NHL history, a historic power play that sent the SAP Center crowd into delirium, a game-tying goal that silenced the same crowd not even six minutes later and nearly a full period of extra hockey. 

By comparison, the twists and turns of Bruins-Maple Leafs seem rather straightforward. 

How struggles in faceoff circle plagued Sharks on disastrous road trip


How struggles in faceoff circle plagued Sharks on disastrous road trip

That is not how the Sharks wanted to enter the All-Star break.

Coming off consecutive wins over the Columbus Blue Jackets and Dallas Stars, San Jose had a chance to reach the unofficial midway point of the regular season riding a massive wave of momentum, perhaps large enough to carry the team back to the postseason. All that sat between the Sharks and that development was a crucial three-game road trip against Western Conference foes.

At the very least, San Jose needed to keep its head above water. Instead, the Sharks drowned in disaster.

Facing the Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks -- all teams San Jose potentially would have to leapfrog to make the playoffs -- the Sharks reverted back to kind of performances that put them in such a deep hole in the first place.

San Jose was outscored 14-4 and outshot 117-73 over the course of the three games. Those two stats obviously are interconnected, but Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner pointed to another area of failure as a big reason for his team's struggles.

"The big difference this road trip is we've been horrible in the faceoff circle," Boughner said following the 4-1 loss in Vancouver on Saturday night. "You're never starting with the puck. Even in the offensive zone, you're chasing, and you can't chase pucks all night. That limits your possessions and tires you out."

Boughner's correct. The Sharks were thoroughly dominated in the faceoff circle over the course of the road trip, which might have had something to do with them scoring only one goal over its final six periods of play. San Jose won only 45.1 percent of the draws against the Coyotes, 45.6 percent against the Avalanche and only 38.0 percent against the Canucks.

It's only the third time this season the Sharks have won fewer than 49.0 percent of the draws in three straight games, and the most recent instance also coincided with a three-game losing streak. Whether it's shooting, scoring or simply gaining possession of the puck, Boughner is hoping the All-Star break will provide the Sharks with the needed respite to address their shortcomings.

"This is probably a great break for everybody, mentally," Boughner said. "Recharge the batteries and come back and try to forget about this week of hockey and put a good week in as soon as we get back."

[RELATED: Report: Wilson won't disrupt Sharks' core at trade deadline]

The Sharks' final week heading into the All-Star break was an unmitigated disaster. If they're still planning on qualifying for the postseason, they can't have any more like it.