MONTREAL — It felt like Logan Couture was literally dragging himself to the finish line last year.
By April, he looked like a shadow of the player who had scored 13 goals in the first 23 games of the pandemic-shortened campaign. He scored just four more times over 30 games to close out his season.
The thought was that Couture was playing hurt – he looked hurt – and while he never fessed up, hockey player mentality blah blah blah, it’s safe to assume that he was banged up.
After the San Jose Sharks were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, Couture sat out the final three games of the year with a lower-body injury.
Fast forward to 2021-22: Couture looks revived and like a top center once again. Here’s 200-feet of great hockey from the captain:
Couture (39) helps his defensemen out and takes the centering pass away from Christian Dvorak (28). Then, after Timo Meier (28) chips it out, Couture attacks. Noticing that the Montreal Canadiens have forgotten Jonathan Dahlen (76), Couture veers toward the left lane and pulls the Habs to him, shoots for the rebound, and an unmarked Dahlen has a gimme.
It looks too easy because it was: That was awful defense from Montreal, especially forgetting Dahlen. But it was Couture’s hustle on the defensive end and smarts on the offensive end that made the cake.
That was a more obvious star turn, but Couture was buzzing, especially in that dominant San Jose Sharks’ opening frame where they took a 3-0 lead and outshot the home side 11-3.
“You’re seeing a happy Logan,” San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner offered.
Here’s another play that I liked:
Okay, so when you’re good, you’re lucky – that Couture spin pass to Brent Burns (88) caught Chris Wideman’s (20) skate. But full credit to Couture for making Wideman’s life impossible: On the forecheck, Couture fends off Wideman and Nick Suzuki (14) and gives Burns a chance to make something happen. Those are little, hard-to-play-against categories where Couture excels when he’s on his game.
And he’s on his game now, for a surprisingly unbeaten San Jose Sharks squad.
Can Couture stay healthy? Can Nick Bonino continue to soak up D-zone faceoffs – through two games, per Natural Stat Trick, Bonino leads Sharks forwards with 10 DZ Faceoffs at 5-on-5, Couture has just five.
That’s a big one: Last year, Couture took the highest rate of DZ Faceoffs among San Jose forwards. So essentially, he was charged to be the Sharks’ top offensive and defensive center, and the theory goes that wore him out.
If Couture says healthy and Bonino proves to still be rock-solid in a tough role, maybe the captain puts together a wire-to-wire great season – and reminds us why the San Jose Sharks issued him an eight-year contract.
There’s no doubt the Sharks are that much more dangerous when they have two first-line centers playing like first-liners. Last year, Couture and Tomas Hertl never seemed to get going at the same time.
Boughner also says Couture has also become a better captain.
“A guy that’s loving coming to the rink everyday and loving that line he’s on and being a leader,” Boughner noted. “I think he’s grown into that role. I think last year was a big adjustment for him. He’s more comfortable in his skin amongst his teammates and he’s taken a big step in the leadership department.”
A Key Cog
Andrew Cogliano was perhaps the most unheralded of the San Jose Sharks’ trio of free agency signings – but he’s been very noticeable through two games.
Obviously, on opening night, he scored a key short-handed goal to resuscitate a Sharks squad down 2-0 to the Jets. But that’s a mirage – Cogliano wasn’t brought on to score. From 2018-21, he potted 14 goals in 200 contests.
Instead, he was signed, at least in terms of on-the-ice reasons, to bring constant two-way pressure with his speed and hunger for the puck.
Count the Cogliano (11) hustle plays here: There’s helping Jasper Weatherby (26) off the draw. There’s getting a shot off – admittedly not a dangerous one – because of a quick Lane Pederson (18) pass and Weatherby’s boardwork. There’s outworking Brendan Gallagher (11) to keep Sharks offensive zone possession alive. There’s hustling again on the backcheck to break up an Adam Brooks (24) pass to Gallagher.
Boughner highlighted this shift post-game too: “[Pederson] is a big body and Weatherby’s a big body and then you got Cogs who just makes the right plays all the time.”
That one shift is every reason why the San Jose Sharks signed Cogliano.
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