Logan Couture has been out of the San Jose Sharks lineup since fracturing his right fibula during a Sharks practice on October 15. Initially projected to be out four-to-six weeks, Couture’s rehabilitation is behind schedule, but all indications point to an imminent return, and the Sharks need his all-around spark in a bad way.
The Sharks have coped well with Couture’s injury, going 12-10-0 without him in the lineup, and heading into Saturday night’s game at home against the Tampa Bay Lightening, the Sharks were holding down second-place in the NHL’s Pacific Division, just three points back of the Los Angeles Kings. But, there’s no doubt the Sharks need Couture’s return to remain a playoff contender.
Friday night’s listless 1-0 shutout loss in Anaheim against the Ducks showed how important Couture is to the Sharks. Against the Ducks, the Sharks managed only 23 shots on goal, and just two shots in the third period. And while the Sharks’ power play has shown some spark recently, they laid an unimpressive 0-4 goose egg against the Ducks. Both areas would have been improved with Couture’s puck possession skills and an ability to create plays in open space.
On the season, the Sharks’ power play is converting at only 16.3 percent, 25th in the 30-team NHL, and the Sharks have to improve to take pressure off a sometimes inconsistent defense that is still looking for a sixth dependable defenseman to emerge. Over the course of his 382-game NHL career, Couture has 39 power play goals and 50 power play assists.
The Sharks rank 14th in the league on the penalty kill, successfully killing 81 percent of their short-handed situations. It’s another special teams area of the game where Couture excels, as a big part of his almost 20 minutes a game are assigned to his responsible play in the defensive zone.
When Couture returns to the lineup, coach Peter DeBoer will be able to shift his lines as he continues his search for more consistent contributions from the third and fourth lines. In addition to Couture, center Ben Smith is continuing his recovery from a concussion, and forward Raffi Torres is due to come off suspension in 16 more games.
The Sharks have played well on the road and have surprised with some victories. At the same time, they’ve greatly disappointed at home and lost a few games they should have won. One of the best young forwards in the league, Couture’s still a six-year veteran who brings leadership and stability to the lineup. His return can’t come quick enough if the Sharks want to up their game.
Photo Credit: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images
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