Logan Couture had emergency surgery Thursday to repair a bleeding arterial injury in his right thigh, and while he will miss several games, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson doesn’t expect a long-term absence. Several games or several weeks, the Sharks desperately need Couture’s return as they struggle to find an identity.
Couture is one of the best young forwards in the NHL, and he’s a bona fide top-six forward on any NHL team. He’s solid and dependable on both ends of the ice, and his scoring touch – 289 points in 384 career games – makes him a matchup concern for opponents.
This season so far has been a miserable one for Couture, and it’s threatening the Sharks’ attempt to rise back to status of Stanley Cup playoff contender. First, after just three regular season games, Couture fractured his right fibula in a Sharks practice October 15, and after a lengthy rehabilitation, he returned for two games this week, only to suffer the second – and unrelated – injury to his right leg.
It has been a very difficult 4 month stretch personally. Really just a quick thanks to everyone for the support through this, means a lot.
— Logan Couture (@Logancouture) December 11, 2015
Heading into Saturday night’s home game against the Minnesota Wild, the Sharks have posted a 14-13-1 record, good for third place in the tightly packed Pacific Division. However, the Sharks’ 29 points are not only 10 behind the division-leading Los Angeles Kings, it’s only three points above the last-place Calgary Flames.
With the NHL’s playoff format, if the Sharks are to qualify for the playoffs, they’ll likely have to finish the season in the top three of the division, for the two wild card qualifiers in the Western Conference are sure to come from the Central Division, where currently six of the seven teams have point totals high enough to be second or better in the Pacific.
All of the Sharks’ positive momentum from last month’s 6-0 eastern road trip has long since evaporated as they’ve gone 1-5-1 since. More over, the Sharks continue to underwhelm at home, where they’re just 4-8 this season.
With Couture’s new injury, head coach Peter DeBoer will once again have to resort to juggling his lines to discover the combinations that will work. Tomas Hertl will likely start centering Couture’s second line, with Patrick Marleau on one wing, and if Hertl falters as he did during Couture’s first absence, Marleau will slide over to center.
The Sharks need Couture’s healthy return to advance their game in all areas. While getting a bit better of late, the Sharks remain mediocre on special teams – 18th in the 30-team league on the power play at 18.1 percent and 12th on the penalty kill at 81.3 percent – both areas where Couture contributes mightily.
Couture will help most when the Sharks play five-on-five, where they’re repeating their struggles of last year. So far this year, the Sharks have scored 47 goals for when skating five-on-five, while surrendering 52 goals. That’s the sign of a middling team, and a middling team will have a nail-biting roller coaster of a ride to the very end of the season to qualify for the playoffs.
The Sharks need to get back on track and get back on track quickly. To do that, they need Couture back and healthy – once and for all.
Photo Credit: Gerry Thomas/Getty Images
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