SAN JOSE -– Logan Couture almost didn’t play against the Ducks on Saturday.
The Sharks are sure fortunate that he did.
Couture’s first period goal gave the Sharks their first lead in five games, and he added a shorthanded marker later in the opening frame to get his team going in a 6-4 Sharks win over Anaheim on Saturday night at SAP Center.
The 25-year-old center was nowhere to be found at Saturday’s morning skate as he was feeling pretty ill to start his day, which began with a swollen eye that was impairing his vision. A hospital visit was required.
“I got to the rink and wasn’t feeling too good. Saw [trainer Ray Tufts] and he set me up over at the hospital for a little bit,” said Couture, who required an IV treatment and antibiotics. “Didn’t know I was going to play until I got to the rink later today.”
While Couture’s early efforts staked the Sharks to a pair of one-goal leads, Tommy Wingels ended up being the biggest star on offense with one goal and three assists. Joe Pavelski (power play), Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto (empty net) also found the back of the net as the Sharks improved to 1-2-1 on their six-game homestand.
The game featured two significant momentum swings. The Sharks scored four unanswered goals in jumping out to a 5-1 second period advantage, before Anaheim responded for the next three in a span of less than six minutes, beginning with Corey Perry’s first of two goals with 1:08 to go in the middle frame.
The Ducks trailed 5-4 with more than 15 minutes to go in the third period, and were flying after looking lethargic and sloppy earlier, perhaps fatigued from playing their second game in as many nights.
Had the Sharks gone on to surrender that four-goal lead, it’s not a stretch to think that drastic changes could have been forthcoming, the coaching staff included. Instead, Todd McLellan called a timeout after the Ducks’ fourth goal, and his troops responded by shutting the door on Anaheim, ending a four-game losing streak in the process.
"Tonight kind of epitomizes our team,” McLellan said. “We come out and we do exactly what we want to do: we play with a straightforward mentality, no turnovers, a hard forecheck, physical, on pucks, special teams are sharp.
“We get a lead, and now we want to play a different game. We want to play a softer, cuter game, if you will. We started to turn pucks over, we weren't as physical. We weren't playing north-south, we weren't shooting, and that timeout was to remind them that that's what got us to the four-goal lead, and we got away from it.”
Wingels indicated that McLellan’s message got through loud and clear. The results show that was the case.
“I think that was a really good timeout there to re-establish what we wanted to do,” Wingels said. “We got some energy after that. We got back to being physical and getting pucks deep, and we found a way to win the game.”
The game also marked the second time this season the Sharks stopped four-game losing streak with a win against Anaheim. Although they didn’t maintain their game from start to finish on Saturday, the first 38 minutes seemed to show that the Sharks still have the ability to play with the best teams in the NHL when they apply themselves.
That likely drives their coach and their fans crazy, but at least the potential is still there.
What are the keys to playing that way?
“Just that relentless attack, I think, and going forward,” Pavelski said.
It helps, too, when one of your best goal-scorers powers through what was clearly a difficult day.
“I thought [Couture] had a hell of a game,” McLellan said. "Probably his best game of the season, in my opinion. He was all over the puck, he played well defensively, looked really good."