The Sharks forward had eight points in four games against the Vancouver Canucks in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs, logging big minutes (22:02) and netting three power play goals. He led by example, and the example was this: The San Jose Sharks have weapons that go beyond Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, and that Couture and teammate Joe Pavelski are ready to put their stamp on this franchise.
We spoke with Couture last week – after the Sharks won, but before their second-round matchup with the Los Angeles Kings was cemented – about inheriting that leadership role, as well as accusations that he’s a diver; sweeping a Canucks team he hated; and the pressures of the postseason.
Todd McLellan said you’re “driving the bus” and Dan Boyle said you’re “the man”. How do you feel about the notion that this team is less about Thornton and Marleau and more about, say, Couture and Pavelski?
COUTURE: I still think those two are the leaders. They’re great players. I’ve learned so much from those two guys and from Boyler as well. We’re the guys who play a lot of minutes, so we’re expected to contribute. We’re expected to play a lot every single night. That’s one of the reasons why we beat Vancouver in four games. Everyone played so well.
Do you think it helps them to be out of the spotlight, or at least share it? Especially in Patty’s case, as it seems he’s a punching bag every postseason.
I don’t know, maybe if helps that other guys are stepping up. Patty does face a lot of heat. I think a lot of the time is unfair and not warranted. He handles it perfectly. Doesn’t let him effect him.
I’m guessing you thought sweep before the Vancouver series.
Yeah, I wish. Obviously not, but it’s nice that we got it done in four games.
There’s a time-tested notion that teams that win the Cup have at least one short series. Was that in the back of your mind as you closed out Vancouver?
A little bit. You try not to think about having the rest, you just want to finish them off. But as soon as that game ended I realized we’d have a full week off, I realized how important that is. We have some guys on our team that are older, played a lot of games or minutes this year.
But enough about Dan Boyle ....
[Laughs] He is the oldest.
You’ve been here for a few years. Seen some highs and lows. Does this team feel any differently than previous teams?
It’s tough to say. We’ve had some good teams over the years that have done some good things. Obviously not to win it all, which is always the plan. But we have a good team. When we play the way that we want to play – like we did down the stretch of the season and in the Vancouver series – I feel we can beat anyone.
When Doug Wilson traded away Douglas Murray and Ryane Clowe at the deadline, was there a sense in the room that this would be a transition phase for the Sharks or that these were necessary moves for impending free agents?
We were making moves to try and make our team better. We picked up [Scott Hannan] and [Raffi Torres] who’ve done an unbelievable job. Raff brings a lot of speed up front, a good shot and he’s intimidating. That was a big pickup for us.
Losing Clowey and Cranky was tough at the time, because they’ve been here for so long. But they were moves that helped out team.
Is Torres he quintessential ‘hate to play against him, love him on our team’ player?
Pretty much. I remember playing against him this year and when he was with Vancouver, and you always have to be aware when he’s out there because he skates so fast. He’s a solid guy and hits so hard. He’s good at what he does.
Has he tried to take your head off in practice yet?
No, he hasn’t, because he’s on my line right now. It’s nice playing with him.
What’s been assistant coach Larry Robinson’s influence on you guys this year?
He’s awesome. He’s great to be around. He’s like a little kid at the rink when he gets there, always joking around. You listen to what he says because he’s done so much in his career as a player and a coach. He’s taught me a ton in just one year.
It’s nice having him around. He keeps things light. He’s approachable, easy to talk to. He’s helped us out.
How surprised were you with the play of Brent Burns at forward?
I was surprised when it happened. We were playing in St. Louis and saw 88 moved to forward, and I was shocked.
He’s done an unbelievable job. It’s not easy to do, moving from defense to forward back to defense. On our power play, he plays the point, and on some shifts we move him around late in games. He makes the transition look so easy.
Burnsy’s a big guy with a lot of speed you forechecks well. He’s tough to play against. If I was on the other team, I wouldn’t want Burnsy flying in on me.
Well, he hasn’t shaved since his first game. He’s going on three months right now. It’s pretty disgusting. His hair growing into his beard right now … he doesn’t cut his hair either. It’s gross.
It was really impressive to see the Sharks not get suckered into the extra-curricular stuff by the Canucks in the series. How hard is it not to get into a war of words with Vancouver?
It’s a little difficult. When players on the other team are questioning your integrity, saying you’re a diver, you want to say something but it would just be what they’re looking for. I just went out there and played the game. I didn’t do any whining or complaining the media like they did after every single game. It’s one of the reasons why we’re still playing.
When Kevin Bieksa says that you and Thornton are “two Canadian guys that need to be playing the game with integrity,” what was more offensive to you: That he called you a diver or challenged your Canadianism?
That I’m a diver. I’ve never gotten a diving penalty in my career, four years in the NHL and four years in the OHL or in the American League. Zero diving penalties. You can look around on that team, I’ll bet you’ll find a couple of diving penalties on that roster.
How much did it help you guys to get into a playoff series against a team you just don’t like?
It was a good matchup for us. We don’t like any other team. But there’s definitely a hatred of Vancouver; because they’re a good team, they beat us out in the playoffs two years ago, the way they talk, all that kind of stuff … it got us into it in Game 1.
Whoever we play in the next round, we have to hate them too.
The job your line did against the Sedins was pretty remarkable. What’s the key for stopping the Sedins?
Stick with them. They look for each other. They’re good on their backhands. Very, very good on their backhands. Don’t give them space wit the puck. Don’t make them feel comfortable. Finish checks on them. And if we have the puck and they don’t, then we’re doing something right.
You have 26 points in your last 27 playoff games. Have you always been a guy who performs that well in the postseason?
I try to. You always want to be playing your best at this time a year. It’s the most fun hockey you’re going to play. It’s enjoyable waking up every day knowing we’re trying to win that Stanley Cup. I catch myself many days sitting on the couch, dreaming about scoring the Cup-winning goal.
This is enjoyable for you? The stress and strain and tension of a Sharks’ playoff run?
It’s awesome. It’s a lot of fun.
It’s the same routine. On the road, we have a room where guys can chill if guys get lonely. I’m usually in there a lot. We’re a pretty close team.
What does it mean to you, as a California-based player, to have California NHL teams advance to the second round?
It’s pretty cool. A lot of people don’t get to see games in San Jose or LA. I always tell people if they haven’t seen a game at HP Pavillion, you need to. Everyone says how hard it is to play at the Shark Tank, and it is.
Finally, you were the last pick in the last NHL All-Star Game draft. What happened to the car you won?
I gave it to my younger brother. He’s driving it around right now. My parents bought him some rims for it. I have a Range Rover back home.
Did you miss having the all-star game this season because of the lockout.
Of course. Who knows if I would have been chosen to play in it.
You know, you think about this year and it’s crazy with 48 games. You realize the body took such a beating playing back to backs and 3-in-4s.
It’s been playoff hockey for a long time, it feels like.
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