Something that has not happened once for the San Jose Sharks during the 2015-16 NHL season will when they face the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday, Dec. 30—full health. CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz reported Wednesday that Logan Couture is returning.
Couture and fellow 2014-15 NHL season scoring-line forward Melker Karlsson were on the ice for less than two full games before a separate injury took San Jose’s second-line center down again. During those games, blue-line ace Marc-Edouard Vlasic was out.
Every team deals with injuries, but losing top guys exposed the Sharks as lacking of the kind of depth they appeared to have going into the 2015-16 NHL season. This was most glaring when looking at a team without a win if either Vlasic or Paul Martin are out, but it really affects all three units.
Instead of having three players vying for the final scoring-line role, Tommy Wingels, Matt Nieto and Tomas Hertl have all failed to even be secondary scoring threats. Instead of having several players all capable of filling the final blue-line role, Matt Tennyson, Mirco Mueller, Dylan DeMelo and Karl Stollery, Mark Cundari and more have not been up to the task. Instead of Martin Jones being a franchise goalie, Alex Stalock being a strong backup and two very good AHL goalies being call-up options, San Jose has a pretty good starter and three players that are really only pretty good AHL starters.
Fortunately for the Sharks, most of the Pacific Division is even worse so far this 2015-16 NHL season. They currently project to make the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Still, injuries have not been the problem for San Jose. Giving up the first goal—often in the first period as it was against the Colorado Avalanche Monday—at home has been.
The Sharks have done that 10 times on the 2015-16 NHL season and lost all 10 games. They won all four when scoring first.
Does that mean it is that simple? Of course not…well, maybe a little. Scoring first is vital, but it is not a direct cause-and-effect relationship. San Jose has both scored first but lost and given up the first goal but won on the road during the 2015-16 NHL season.
Part of this is that Jones has been inconsistent at home, but the bigger problem has come with the team not coming to the rink as ready as their opponents. This is something that players and head coach Peter DeBoer have stated many times after games, and that problem should not persist—especially when an alternate captain is returning like Couture Wednesday.
The Sharks have to come with urgency after winning only 23 of their last 57 home games (excluding preseason). If they were even a point over .500 during the 2015-16 NHL season at home (lower than the average point percentage of all league games, home and away), the Los Angeles Kings would be no more than two games ahead for the Pacific Division lead with the seventh-best record in the league.
San Jose should be home to wins in the next four games: Philadelphia and the Winnipeg Jets are teams that might be lucky to be hovering around .500, teal was registered as kryptonite for the Detroit Red Wings in the autumn of 2008 and their old coach will have difficulty breaking that trend soon with his new Toronto Maple Leafs in a rebuild.
Of course, the Sharks cannot afford to look ahead. They need this win on home ice. Even if Couture is going to take time as one would expect to get his rhythm, new captain Joe Pavelski has more help to make this happen. With 10 of the next 13 at home, now is the time to exorcise those demons.