Sharks (unfamiliar) territory: Couture’s return may only help so much

Photo of Sharks (unfamiliar) territory: Couture’s return may only help so much

Logan Couture’s game figures to be a little sharper when the Sharks host the New Jersey Devils on Thursday and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.

As for Tuesday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Couture, who made his return after a seven-week absence with a small fracture in his left ankle, simply gave his team what he had.

“I feel alright,” Couture said after the Sharks’ 4-2 loss at Wells Fargo Center. “Wish I played a little bit better, but I’m OK.”

The Sharks will take any positive they can get right now, as they return home on a five-game losing streak with the likelihood of more difficult times ahead.

The Sharks (26-33-4) were already in the midst of a trying season before Monday’s NHL trade deadline. Taking regulars Brenden Dillon, Patrick Marleau and Barclay Goodrow out of an already depleted lineup that scored just six goals in four road games won’t help.

After Saturday, three of the Sharks’ next four games are against teams still fighting for a playoff spot — Toronto, Minnesota and Colorado, with a game against Ottawa also in the mix. Then seven of their next nine are on the road.

“I think it’s tough scoring goals right now,” defenseman Brent Burns said Tuesday night. “We just have to, you’ve got to almost play a perfect game. I think you’ve just got to try to do the right things when you can.”

Couture came back into the Sharks’ lineup a bit earlier than originally planned. At first, he was just supposed to get in some morning skates before a practice Monday and then aim for a Thursday return.

But things changed, it seemed, after the Sharks dealt Marleau and Goodrow — both top six forwards — before Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

“Yeah, I was cleared,” Couture said. “I still haven’t gotten into a practice. My hands, I knew weren’t going to be great. But I figured, it’s been a rough couple of days.”

Couture had two shots on net in 18 minutes of ice time against the Flyers, playing the game with Evander Kane and Kevin Labanc as his linemates.

“It was nice to see his name on the board,” Sharks interim coach Bob Boughner said of Couture. “After (Tuesday’s) morning skate, he felt that there was a chance he’d play and, obviously I think he’s still getting his feet underneath him.

“I think he’s game speed’s off, but still saying that, he had two or three chances to score goals tonight, so it was good to see him back. I thought it helped (Kane’s) line a little bit, I thought (Kane) had some good juice tonight. But losing three guys and getting one, it’s been a tough couple of days.”

Couture lamented a couple missed scoring chances. He fired a shot right into the belly of Flyers goalie Carter Hart on an odd man rush with Labanc early in the first period, and missed the net wide on another attempt midway through the first period.

“Yeah, by about seven feet,” said Couture, who led the Sharks with 36 points before his injury. “It’s disappointing because I score those goals or those chances and we’re probably still playing right now.”

This is obviously a vastly different team than it was in early January when Couture was injured.

Before that Jan. 7 game against the St. Louis Blues, the Sharks were 19-21-4 but had at least started to make a bit of noise. Prior to that game, they had gone 3-1-2 from Dec. 27 to Jan. 5 and were within eight points of a playoff spot.

Then Tomas Hertl was lost to a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 29, Erik Karlsson was lost for the year Feb. 14 with a thumb injury that required surgery, and Kane, the Sharks’ leading scorer, was suspended for three games by the NHL on Feb. 15.

Following the trades, the Sharks dressed six rookies Tuesday and by the time the game was over, were 14 points behind the second wild card spot in the west with 19 games to go.

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