Logan Couture loves your house.
It starts innocently enough. You invite him in for a beer, and it's all compliments for a while, he's a sweet kid. Over the course of casual conversation he suggests that you move the chaise lounge away from the window to open up the room and accentuate the view. You oblige, feeling as if he's made a good point.
Before you know it, there are contractors in your living room knocking down a wall and installing recessed lighting in your ceilings. On the newly granite mantle, there's the all too familiar picture of you and your wife on your wedding day. But that's not your face. It's Logan Couture's. It's the same with every picture in the house.
That's because it's not your house anymore. It's his. In fact, it may have always been. You can't be sure of anything anymore.
The scenario above may seem far-fetched, but it's almost exactly what Logan Couture has been doing in other team's buildings this year. Tonight in Washington, Couture scored his NHL leading eighth game-winning goal of the season. Seven of those game-winners have come on the road. Seven. That's an NHL record for rookies. Game-winning goals may not be the most meaningful stat, but it's just another feather in the cap of Couture, who is having a rookie year to remember. With just one more goal, he will tie the Sharks all time record for rookie goal scoring; Pat Faloon scored twenty-five in his first season as San Jose's first ever draft pick. Seeing as Couture is on a six game scoring streak, that will probably happen sooner rather than later.
The game was hard fought throughout, but the Sharks definitely played the stronger game of the two teams which skated tonight in the Nation's capital. Earlier in the year, and especially during the six-game losing streak, you would expect the team to lose these types of games. Instead, the team played an all around strong defensive match highlighted by another brilliant effort by Antti Niemi. Niemi, who arrived much to the dismay of many San Jose fans, has started nine straight games for the team and has shutouts in his last two. With injuries sidelining both the second and third options in the Sharks goaltending depth chart, Niemi has been asked to carry the team when it matters most.
He has done so admirably.
Jason Demers also had a strong game both offensively and defensively, aside from a turnover in the second that nearly led to a Washington goal when the game was still scoreless. Other standouts on the defense? Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Douglas Murray, who blocked six and five shots, respectively. Dan Boyle also added a late goal for insurance just a few minute's after Couture's tally, assisted by Devin Setoguchi.
It was Setoguchi's sixth straight game with a point, his strongest scoring stretch over the last two seasons. In that span he's amassed eight points, almost doubling his season total. As we discussed last week during the FTF Podcast, losing Setoguchi in a trade is something we're less comfortable with as the season progresses. There's still an all too obvious need on defense, but I hope that piece doesn't come at the expense of Setoguchi. Things could change, as they always do, but it's tough to justify giving up on him now unless the return is spectacular.
Switching gears to the other forwards, Joe Thornton also had a strong game, albeit off the scoresheet. Applying pressure on Washington nearly every time he was on the ice, Thornton created opportunities and turnovers. He was only officially credited with a single takeaway all night, but he was disruptive to say the least. His scoring may be down (he definitely missed some opportunities tonight), but from a defensive standpoint, he's markedly improved. Don't let that plus-minus fool you, he's been a significantly better defensive player this year than at any other point in his career.
The Sharks have now earned points in each of their last nine contests. They've grabbed seventeen of their last eighteen possible points, and have catapulted back into the playoff picture. Although Dallas has a game in hand over San Jose, the Stars lead the Sharks by just a point in the Pacific Division standings. The Sharks can regain the Pacific Division lead for the first time since the first game of the season with a win tomorrow and a Dallas loss. Coincidentally, the Sharks also faced Columbus that day, who will be their opponent tomorrow as they try to continue their rise back to the elite level of teams in the West.
Luckily, the Blue Jackets are also coming off a back to back against an Eastern Conference team, which should help even the level of fatigue between the two squads. The Columbus-San Jose matchup has always been hard fought for one reason or another, and should be just that tomorrow.
However, the way San Jose is playing, it's hard to bet against them. I should know, as I was involved in just such a bet in the latest edition of the Plank-TCY showdown. I don't want to jinx anything, but my wager is looking pretty solid right now.
Prediction: Sharks win 4-1. Goals by Thornton, Heatley, Vlasic and Couture, who decides that Columbus' rink would benefit from a more art deco look.