The playoffs are just two days away so we break down who’s hot and who’s not for team teal.
There’s no question the San Jose Sharks will need to bring their ‘A’ game against a Los Angeles Kings team they will meet for the fourth time in their last six playoff appearances if they plan on advancing. The Sharks saw healthy contributions from a good portion of their roster in the regular season, hence their solid, 98-point season, and several players are coming into the postseason on a torrent.
Still, not everyone’s recent performance is satisfying, many of whom will be critical to the Sharks’ playoff success.
The Sharks don’t have a young, superstar, goal-scoring center like the Stars with Tyler Seguin or Islanders with John Tavares – or a blazing-fast winger capable of leading the league in points like the Hawks have in Patrick Kane or, well, the Stars have again in Jamie Benn – but the Sharks have the bragging rights to Thornton, who really makes the team go.
The now 36 year-old quietly finished T-4th in the NHL in points (82), second in assists (63), and is riding a seven-game point streak into round one. Let’s also not forget about his plus-25 rating on the campaign. Kane was almost undoubtedly the best player of the regular season and should be a well-deserved Hart Trophy winner, but is anybody more important to his team than Thornton is to the Sharks? The future Hall-of-Famer has 100 career playoff points, and he’ll add to that total in the coming weeks or months.
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Another 36 year-old, the Saskatchewan native has continued to defy father-time and produce in his 17th NHL season. Marleau tallied 25 goals during the regular season, 11 of those coming on the power play. His career-worst minus-22 rating is a major concern, but Matt Nieto’s playoff return from a broken hand should help Marleau lead the third line. The center finished the season with four goals and two assists in his final six contests and hasn’t played with this much confidence since Thanksgiving.
A severe leg injury, in this case a broken fibula, is obviously something you don’t want to happen, but Couture’s two-month absence due to the injury really showed how important of a piece he is to the Sharks’ puzzle. San Jose went 32-15-5 when Couture was in the lineup, right on pace with Los Angeles and Anaheim for the best team in the division.
During his departure? The Sharks went 14-15-1 – not even close to a playoff team. Couture recorded a hat-trick two weeks ago against Vancouver, and has totaled five goals and two assists in his last seven. He is a very capable top-six forward for a playoff team like the Sharks, who struggled to find an identity without him. With Couture healthy, the Sharks are much deeper and it gives them stability and a playmaker on the second-line.
Ward registered two goals, no assists and a putrid minus-eight rating in his final nine games to conclude the season, but the Sharks acquired the renowned playoff-hero for this exact moment last summer. The talented winger won’t give an excuse for his recent underwhelming play, but Ward is up there in age (35) and may have worn down as the season came to a close, signified by the low amount of time he spent on the ice toward season’s end. As a veteran who has been on playoff runs before during his time in Nashville and Washington, there’s no doubt, that Ward can find his groove again and prove his worth.
On the other end of the spectrum, this rookie is a bit of a question mark for San Jose as they look to conquer the Kings. Overall, Donskoi had a successful rookie season, showing he can be a top-six forward in this league for years to come notching 36 points, yet his worst slump of the campaign came at the worst time. The Finn failed to score a goal in the team’s final 12 games, and he managed a lowly two points in his last nine games. The Sharks scored 33 goals during that 12-game span, and Donskoi, a second-line winger, didn’t account for one of those. We’ll see how he fares come Thursday night, when he hopefully can regain his form.
Braun has been forced into a different role lately due to the departure of fellow defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and he didn’t produce much during that time. Braun’s last assist came on Feb. 29, and he notched a total of two points combined in the months of March and April. Additionally, he has uncharacteristically taken a few poor penalties as of late, being sent to the box four times in San Jose’s last eight games. Thankfully, Vlasic is ready for playoff time in L.A., so Braun will have his elite blue-line partner back and paired alongside him come Game One. Braun, now in his sixth season in the league – all of which have been in teal – has been through the grind of the playoffs several times with this core before, so his confidence should not be an issue.