Couture To Take Center Stage in Playoffs

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SAN JOSE- When it comes to individuals making headlines, two San Jose Sharks dominated the 2013-14 regular season.

Joe Pavelski dominated the Sharks headlines from the forward position by notching a career high 41 goals while playing mostly alongside Joe Thornton. By playing a pivotal role on Team Canada’s Olympic Gold medal team, Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic finally shook his title as the “most underrated defenseman in the NHL”.

Pavelski certainly paced the Sharks offense and there is little argument against Vlasic being the Sharks MVP this season. However, if there was an argument to be had, Logan Couture, not Pavelski would make the best case.

Despite missing 17 games this season, Couture still managed 23 goals and 31 assists for 54 points in 65 games. Those numbers translate to 29 goals and 40 assists for 69 points over a full 82 games. In other words, his offensive output was right up there, just a smidge below Thornton (76 points) and Pavelski (79) despite consistently playing against the opponents top lines.

And even while playing against the best opponent’s had to offer, Couture finished the season not only with an elite offensive output, but he managed to finish with a comparable (higher than Thornton’s) plus-21 rating.When Couture was out of the lineup, his usual left wing Patrick Marleau noticeably struggled in his absence.

This season Couture was simply terrific in driving the play into the offensive zone. Outside of fourth liner Adam Burish, Couture started the lowest percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone amongst San Jose forwards, (just 45.3%). Despite this heavy defensive zone deployment, Couture finished fifth out of all forwards in corsi behind just Thornton and his three most frequent wingers in Pavelski, Brent Burns, and Tomas Hertl. Even with missing as much time as he did, Couture still finished with more shots (233) than Pavelski (225).

Not to mention, Couture was offensively snake bit for much of the year and yet still managed that 29 goal pace. His .099 shooting percentage was a career low. Had he played a full season with his career average of .121, Couture would have set a new career high of 35 goals. While Pavelski potted his 41 alongside the best play-maker on the planet, he also did so with a ridiculously fortunate .182 shooting percentage (his career percentage is .111). Not trying to take anything away from Pavelski, but along with being San Jose’s primary shut-down center, Couture is also the team’s most natural goal scorer.

Given his dominant two-way game, it is difficult to fathom that this is just Couture’s fourth full season in the NHL. In that short of time he has already become San Jose’s most valuable forward. Couture is the center whom logs the tough minutes while still producing top offensive numbers.

The only time this season that Sharks head coach Todd McLellan noticeably changed shutdown units is when he had Pavelski-Thornton-Burns skate against Anaheim’s Corey Perry-Ryan Getzlaf duo. That may or may not change if Pavelski is to relocate to third line center, but if given the responsibility in a potential second round match-up with Anaheim, you can bet Couture will be up to the task.

As for round one, it will most likely be the Couture line taking on Los Angeles’ top unit led by Anze Kopitar. In the final regular season match up between the Kings and Sharks on Apr. 3, Couture scored the game winner and finished with five shots on goal. Along with linemates Marleau and Tommy Wingels, the trio accounted for the majority of the Sharks offensive chances despite playing against the Kings top line of Kopitar, Justin Williams, and Marian Gaborik.

Given the match-ups discussed here earlier in the week, the Kings more than likely need to win the Couture-Kopitar battle to win the series. All Couture realistically needs to do is neutralize Kopitar, a feat which he is certainly capable of and something yours truly fully expects out of him. I think this match-up will be an even draw, allowing the Sharks to win the series in six games.

As always for more on the Sharks follow Andrew on twitter: @ViewFromBensch

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