Leon Draisaitl

NHL All-Star Game: Logan Couture can help Sharks set franchise record

NHL All-Star Game: Logan Couture can help Sharks set franchise record

Depending on the final voting results for the 2019 NHL All-Star Game, the Sharks can do something they've never done before.

If center Logan Couture is voted in by fans as the Pacific Division's "Last Man In," San Jose will have four representatives at its first hometown All-Star Game since 1997. That would be the most in franchise history, and would ensure the Sharks have more All-Stars than any other team at this year's midseason exhibition -- barring any last-minute injury replacements and/or players skipping out on the game entirely. 

Well, other than Alex Ovechkin.

Forward Joe Pavelski and defensemen Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson's entry into the game means the Sharks have matched their previous high, which is a total they've reached four times (2002, 2007, 2009, 2017) before. If Couture's going to join them, he'll do so in a bit of anomalous season. 

Couture's 41 points are the most of his career after 42 games, but so are his 26 assists. That's one off of his total from each of the last two seasons, and only 14 away from his career best. Yet Couture is known more as goal-scorer, having scored 20 goals in all but one season since 2010-11. 

This year, he's racking up points as a set-up man. He is picking up primary assists at a higher rate 5-on-5 (0.95 per hour, according to Natural Stat Trick) than any other season in his career, and all but one on the power play (2.1 per hour).  The 30-year-old is picking up 5-on-5 secondary assists at a career-high rate (0.62 per hour), too, but not on the power play (1.57 per hour, fifth-highest).

The former number is buoyed by what would be a career-high on-ice shooting percentage at 5-on-5 (11.8 percent), which is certain to regress. But, it's not entirely unearned. With Couture on the ice, the Sharks are generating scoring chances at a higher rate (30.58 per hour) than all but two of his previous seasons, and more high-danger chances (12.49 per hour) than all but one. 

All told, that's helped Couture mitigate declining shot rates -- he has shot at a lower rate 5-on-5 than the previous season in each of the last four years -- and continue to produce. Converting on over 18 percent of his shots on the power play and 5-on-5 undoubtedly has, too, but Couture's continued production as a passer will be important for the Sharks moving forward. He turns 30 in March, and enters the first season of an eight-year extension in 2019-20. 

[RELATED: Brent Burns, Sharks rally to beat Avs despite injuries on defense]

In the immediate future, Couture will face stiff competition to nab the Pacific's final spot. Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl ended Thursday tied for ninth in points (51), while Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano was tied for third in points among blue-liners (39). Vancouver Canucks winger Brock Boeser was an All-Star last season, as was Los Angeles Kings captain Anze Kopitar. Still, Couture has more points than any of his competitors -- save for Draisaitl -- and San Jose hosting the All-Star Game could give him a boost at the ballot box by the time voting concludes on Jan. 10 at 11:59 p.m. ET. 

Draisaitl: Spearing Sharks forward Tierney 'a stupid play'

Draisaitl: Spearing Sharks forward Tierney 'a stupid play'

EDMONTON – While the Sharks are probably not pleased that Leon Draisaitl escaped suspension for his spear to the groin of Chris Tierney in Game 4, perhaps there’s one benefit to Draisaitl being in the lineup for Thursday’s Game 5.

That is, they can hit him back.

Of course, getting revenge on Draisaitl for his dirty play isn’t something that’s going to be at the forefront of their minds in a playoff series that’s tied at two games apiece. This isn’t a situation like last year, when Pete DeBoer dressed Micheal Haley for the express purpose of fighting Darnell Nurse, after Nurse pummeled Roman Polak for no reason in the previous meeting.

As much as Tierney or some others would surely love to finish their hits on the talented Oilers forward, they have bigger goals in mind, like winning Game 5 and earning a chance to clinch the series at home on Saturday.

“I think we just play our game. It’s playoff hockey,” Tierney said. “We’re focused on wins right now, not about getting somebody back or looking for revenge.”

When asked for his comment on the decision by the NHL to fine Draisaitl, Tierney said: “They obviously did what they felt was right, and hopefully he doesn’t do that anymore. Obviously it’s a dangerous play, and it’s something you don’t want in the game and you don’t want to see, so hopefully it’s the last time he does that.”

Draisaitl also spoke about the play, which earned him a five-minute major and game misconduct in the second period.

“It was a stupid play,” said the 21-year-old. “That’s not who I am. It’s not me. That’s not how I want to be seen as a player. I think everyone knows I am the last guy who wants hurt anyone, or play that type of game. I know it was a bad play by me.”

Oilers coach Todd McLellan backed his young player, too, pointing out that Draisaitl had just 20 penalty minutes in 82 regular season games this season.

“It doesn’t represent him as a player. He could probably be up for the Lady Byng the way he played this year and the amount of points he produced and lack of penalties that he took,” McLellan said. “I don’t think you can paint him with that brush. He made a mistake, he’s paying for it, and we move on."

Oilers' Draisaitl fined, but not suspended, for spearing Sharks' Tierney

Oilers' Draisaitl fined, but not suspended, for spearing Sharks' Tierney

Leon Draisaitl was fined, but not suspended, for spearing Chris Tierney in Game 4 of the Sharks-Oilers first round series at SAP Center on Tuesday night.

Draisaitl is $2,569.44 lighter in the wallet, the maximum allowed under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but will be available to play in Game 5 in Edmonton on Thursday. The NHL Departement of Player Safety revealed the decision on Wednesday afternoon after a hearing.

The 21-year-old Oilers forward was issued a five-minute major and a game misconduct at 13:44 of the second period of the Sharks’ 7-0 win when he pitchforked Tierney in the groin during a battle in the corner. The Sharks’ fourth line center was shaken up on the play and had to be helped to the dressing room, but returned.

"Just feel a stick in my groin, so obviously it doesn't feel well at the time,” Tierney said after the game. “Just kind of dropped and went to shake it off. Takes a couple minutes to recover from something like that. But felt OK the rest of the game."

Oilers coach Todd McLellan didn’t have much to say about the play, which led to a Joe Pavelski power play goal, upping the Sharks' lead to 6-0.

“Frustrating for [Draisaitl]. Frustrating for us because we put our penalty kill back on the ice for another five minutes. And, not necessary, so we’ll fix it,” McLellan said.

Logan Couture was the most vocal Sharks player in regards to the dirty play.

“That’s a play that you don’t like to see as a hockey player,” Couture said. “Obviously, probably frustrating on his part. I think it’s dangerous. Any time you spear a guy like that you’re intending to injure him. I don’t like those types of plays in this game, but the refs made a good call with throwing him out.”

The Sharks and Oilers are tied at two games apiece in the best-of-seven series. Draisaitl, who was Edmonton’s second-leading scorer in the regular season with 77 points (eighth in the NHL), is scoreless in the series so far.