Thornton, Couture both practice Monday with Sharks

Thornton, Couture both practice Monday with Sharks

SAN JOSE – Sharks centers Joe Thornton and Logan Couture both took part in practice on Monday, as San Jose prepares to face Edmonton in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There were still no real indications whether either will be able to play on Wednesday when the series opens at Rogers Place. Thornton skated for approximately a half hour before departing, while Couture was out for the entire hour-plus session.

Thornton and Couture were each wearing white practice sweaters, typically denoting top line duty, and were joined by wingers Joe Pavelski and Melker Karlsson. Thornton, who looked to be moving well considering how ugly the apparent left knee injury appeared, spent most of the skate with the fourth line options.

Last week, Thornton said there was “no doubt” he would be ready for Game 1. The 37-year-old missed the last three games and has been spotted walking with a slight limp in recent days.

Coach Pete DeBoer, who continues to refer to Thornton and Couture as day-to-day, said: "I thought [Thornton] looked good, yeah. It was a good skate for him, a good first step coming back. So, it's good."

Justin Braun said: “I thought he was alright. Progressing, for sure. A lot faster, I thought. It was great to see.”

Thornton is expected to speak with the media on Tuesday.

Couture, who continues to wear a full cage to protect his injured face, has been much more vague than Thornton about his future availability. He missed the final seven games of the regular season after taking a deflected puck to the face in Nashville on March 25, and has still not taken contact.

“I don't know what's going to happen going forward,” Couture said. “I'm still, I guess you could say, day-to-day. We'll go from there. If the game was today I don't know if I would play. If it was tomorrow, I don't know. So, we'll see."

Couture said the pain he has been dealing with has gotten “slightly” better. There’s still a chance a heavy hit could cause further damage, though.

“Oh, obviously,” he said. “It’s not completely healed. It's going to take a long time for my face to completely heal. So anything to the face, it could possibly hurt it again. Who knows? I'm wearing as [protective] gear as you can possibly wear, and trying to be careful."

If you got the cage rattled, would it cause him a lot pain?
"I haven't had it rattled. I don't know,” he said.

If Thornton and Couture are to miss playoff games, some of the Sharks’ younger players will have to step up and do a little more than they’ve done in the regular season, according to Braun.

“I think puts a little more pressure on maybe some of the younger guys to get it done,” Braun said. “It’s a chance to really make your name in this league, set yourself up for a good career. If [Thornton and Couture] are not in, some of these guys have a good chance to get their career going in the right direction. I think it’s exciting for them to get that opportunity.”

The Sharks' second line featured Tomas Hertl between Jannik Hansen and Mikkel Boedker, while Patrick Marleau centered Joel Ward and Joonas Donskoi on the third line. Each of those two lines appears to be set.

The Sharks had five players dressed in fourth line sweaters for practice: Chris Tierney, Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, Marcus Sorensen and Micheal Haley.

How Sharks' defense is making progress, helping produce string of wins


How Sharks' defense is making progress, helping produce string of wins

SAN JOSE -- Remember way back in September, when the Sharks’ defense was the talk of the town?

It wasn’t that long ago they had a whole season ahead of them, and talking heads were calling them Cup contenders before a single puck had dropped -- and a lot of that hype was geared toward the Sharks' blue line. The trade for Erik Karlsson sent expectations into the stratosphere, as if it guaranteed San Jose’s blue line wouldn’t ever lose a puck battle.

With 33 games in the bag, it’s pretty safe to say that bar was set unrealistically high. But after a much-needed win over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night, it became clear: As the Sharks' collective game moves in the right direction, their D-corps is following suit and trending in a positive way. Now, it’s just a matter of building on that.

When the Sharks had trouble getting in the win column earlier this season, they struggled to defend chances in five-on-five situations and committed defensive turnovers, losing battles and having trouble helping their out goaltender. The result? Three or more goals finding the back of San Jose’s net on a regular basis. After a particularly difficult 4-1 loss to Ottawa Senators, defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic stated: “If you’re letting in six goals, we better score seven.”

To a degree, the Sharks' defense has done that, whether it’s by tightening up in their own zone or capitalizing on more offensive chances. As San Jose tries to string more wins together before the Christmas break, it has cut back on the number of goals that get by, minimizing turnovers and odd-man rushes. The Sharks now are ranked 11th in the NHL in goals against with 98 allowed, an average 2.97 goals per game -- which is an improvement over their previous 3.0-plus mark.

It doesn’t hurt that, in addition to tightening up in their own zone, the Sharks’ defense also is contributing to the offense.

Brent Burns, who's only one off the team lead with 31 points, is leading the charge with 27 assists on the season. While fans might view him as a goal scorer, Burns' abilities as a set-up guy -- especially on a few of Joe Pavelski’s big goals --- have been big for Team Teal. (It probably doesn’t hurt, either, that Pavelski and some of San Jose’s other dynamic forwards have no problem posting up at the doorstep in an attempt to redirect one of Burns’ lethal one-timers into the back of the net.)

No. 88 has helped generate offense on the back end as well, ranking fourth among NHL defensemen with 32 takeaways.

[RELATED: Sharks growing into the team they want to be]

Burns isn’t the only Norris Trophy winner who's contributing. Karlsson’s level of play has been trending upward, particularly in the Sharks' most recent stretch of games. After tallying an assist in the win over the Stars, EK65 has six assists through seven games and a plus-4 rating in the month of December.

In fact, Karlsson and linemate Brenden Dillon have joined forces to set up a couple goals over the last stretch of games. The duo set up Pavelski in back-to-back games, with the opening goal in last Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes and the first-period marker in Monday’s 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils. Dillon also led the Sharks’ physical game Monday, leading all skaters that evening with four hits.

San Jose's blue line recently has added a little punch with Radim Simek recalled from the AHL. The Czech product has found almost instant chemistry with Burns and so far has successfully used his heavy game to slow down the opposition. It doesn’t hurt that Simek also has gotten on the scoreboard, tallying three points (one goal, two assists) in six NHL games played.

All in all, it’s forward motion that looks very position for the Sharks’ blue line. While there still are aspects of its game the team no doubt wants to improve on, things are trending in the right direction.

Sharks win third straight, 'starting to grow' into team they want to be

Sharks win third straight, 'starting to grow' into team they want to be

SAN JOSE – The Sharks needed to get two points on Thursday evening in a major way. From how the game against the Stars looked in the first period, those points were looking far out of reach.

“Kind of just a fairly boring game early on,” captain Joe Pavelski admitted after the contest with Dallas, who was playing the second night of a back-to-back. “We probably could’ve had a little more energy early, but they didn’t have that much either.”

But behind a critical second-period goal from Timo Meier, Team Teal was able to rally late and put on a third-period performance that helped them snag those highly-coveted two points. The effort showed that, despite that slow first frame, the Sharks’ overall game is trending in the right direction.

“This was a big win for us tonight,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “Took us a couple periods to create some room for ourselves. We got some good contributions from everyone.”

The victory didn’t just give San Jose some much-needed points in the Pacific Division standings. (Not to mention help them improve to 10-5-1 against Western Conference teams with 21 points earned in 16 games.) It also gave them a third win in a row – a feat they’ve had trouble with so far this season.

The only other time the Sharks tallied more than two wins in a row was back in mid-October when they defeated the Sabres, Islanders, and Predators in succession. Since then they’ve battled with finding consistency all while having a very unforgiving travel schedule. Despite finally having a couple days at home to work on their game, it took a bit on Thursday night for San Jose to find that fire in their game.

When they did find it, however, their battle to take over the game was evident.

“As the season goes on and you travel – some nights you feel better than others, and tonight was a night I thought we were off a little bit,” DeBoer acknowledged. “But we battled and found a way to win and got two critical points.”

Much of that battle came for the Sharks in the latter part of the game. Where San Jose faltered against Dallas in the third frame of their previous meeting, the final stanza was where the Sharks thrived on Thursday evening. Not bad for a team who entered Thursday’s game scoring as many goals in third-period situations as they were giving up.

“We’ve been wanting to play aggressive in the third and I think you saw that,” Joe Thornton said. “We were just more aggressive, staying on pucks and attacking. It was good to see.”

Now with those three wins all lined up in a row, the Sharks need to keep improving. They hit the road yet again for a two-game stint against Chicago and Minnesota, into two buildings that aren’t particularly easy to play in. But while there are still things to work on, San Jose is trending in the right direction.

“As a team, we’re starting to grow into what we need to be, and we still have a long way to go,” Erik Karlsson said. “I think we’re starting to find our groove here a little bit, hopefully. We just need to keep building on that.”