Last Saturday, the rest of the San Jose Sharks’ season – and potentially postseason – may have been significantly altered when Logan Couture took a puck to the face against the Nashville Predators.
According to CSN Bay Area, Couture had “significant” dental work last Monday, and is out for the team’s three-game road trip through Western Canada, which started with a Thursday loss to the Edmonton Oilers. The Sharks said that Couture didn’t need his mouth wired shut and can talk and eat, but the team has been mostly mum on when Couture could return.
Couture’s father called the injury “ugly” in a tweet.
@DanRusanowsky Thanks Dan. It is an ugly injury sadly.
— Chet Couture (@NLLREF2) March 26, 2017
Though the Sharks have clinched a playoff berth, Couture’s injury came at a bad time for the team. San Jose had lost five straight before the issue and they’ve currently won once since March 16 – an overtime victory against the New York Rangers on Tuesday.
Before their drop-off, the Sharks appeared to be cruising towards a division title, but now seem to be in real danger of falling into a Wild Card spot. San Jose has 93 points, three behind the Anaheim Ducks for first-place in the Pacific Division and two behind the Edmonton Oilers for second-place. The Calgary Flames are in the top Wild Card spot and have 90 points. The Sharks and Flames will play each other Friday.
The 28-year-old Couture ranks third on the Sharks with 52 points and fourth with 25 goals. In the past, his profile had lagged slightly behind some of the team’s other big names but last season he burst onto the scene as a franchise-level component in San Jose’s rebirth postseason run.
He led the Sharks in playoff scoring with 10 goals and 30 points in 24 games – and likely would have won the Conn Smythe Trophy if San Jose hadn’t lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final.
Before the season, he was rewarded for his stellar play by being picked to replace Jamie Benn on the Canadian World Cup team.
Though Couture is noticeable when he’s in the lineup, unfortunately for San Jose, his absence is more glaring when he’s injured. Last year, Couture dealt with several ailments and played in 52 regular season games. When he was out, the Sharks went 14-15-1.
Granted, San Jose’s so-so past play without Couture can’t be heaped on just him alone. But in a league where center depth is vital, not having a player of Couture’s caliber creates a hole – especially as games get bigger down the stretch and into the playoffs.
“I can certainly appreciate his skill and ability. You guys in San Jose watch him every game and his intensity and his drive. He drives that team as much as anybody does,” said Oilers coach Todd McLellan, who used to coach Couture in San Jose.
Fortunately for the Sharks, they have a lot of players who can jump into the middle and play center effectively to keep the team afloat until Couture returns.
Patrick Marleau played center parts of last season and has the speed and savvy to still do so effectively. Forward Tomas Hertl still projects at center long-term, even though the Sharks used him at wing during last year’s playoff push. He has been playing a majority of his time at center this season.
Joe Thornton’s numbers have gone down this season with 50 points in 77 games, but he’s still considered a first-line middle-man and has been putting up better numbers since mid-January with 24 points in 34 games.
Also, San Jose has one of the more complete groups of defensemen in the NHL – anchored by Norris Trophy front-runner Brent Burns.
At very least, they have the pieces to get them out of this slump, but can they take another shot at a Cup if Couture can’t heal in time for the playoffs? That’s unclear, but it certainly seems less likely.
“You can’t replace him, so it would be really tough,” Patrick Marleau said shortly after Couture’s injury. “But if that is the case, then guys are going to have to pull up the slack. Definitely we hope he’s back sooner.”
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