Without Couture Sharks Beat Blazing Blue Jackets 3-1

sfgate.com photo: San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton (19) skates with the puck against Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov (44) and goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (90) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020

By Matthew Harrington

SAN JOSE–Despite missing their captain and top line center, the San Jose Sharks (20-22-4) managed to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1 Thursday night at the SAP center.

Joe Thornton scored a power play goal and Kevin Labanc and Brent Burns tallied even-strength markers for San Jose. Aaron Dell made 30 saves to pick up his 7th win of the season, only giving up a goal to Sonny Milano off a turnover in an otherwise stellar showing.

Columbus (21-16-8) has only lost two games in regulation over their last 16 games, but both the losses in regular time are at the hands of the Sharks. San Jose also beat the Blue Jackets 3-2 in Columbus last Saturday.

Earlier in the day, the Sharks announced Logan Couture would be out for at least 6 weeks after fracturing his ankle in a game against the St. Louis Blues. For all the doom and gloom that came with the Sharks looking at substantial time without their lone All-Star this year, Thursday didn’t feel like the beginning of the end. Instead, San Jose looked energized to try to build momentum while awaiting his return.

The Sharks fired 33 shots on netminder Elvis Merzlikins and even managed to pick up a power play goal despite missing Couture from the top power play unit. Kevin Labanc, one of the forwards who will be expected to step up and help shoulder the offensive load, started his two-point night by scoring off a rebound 1:01 into the 2nd period.

Later in the period, Joe Thornton scored a very un-Jumbo goal on the power play. With the umbrella shifting, Thornton found himself at the point with the puck. Barclay Goodrow was providing the perfect screen, so the model of the paradigm of pass-first decided instead to shoot the puck. Thornton’s shot beat Merzlikins up high for a 2-0 Sharks lead with 6:32 left in the middle period.

Late in the second, Brent Burns was dogged by Gustav Nyquist and chose to clear the puck out of his corner by wheeling it back up the middle. He didn’t feel the pressure from Milano crashing in while being dogged by his former teammate, so he turned the puck over to Milano right in the slot. Milano dodged the Dell poke check and slipped the puck in the net to ruin Dell’s shutout.

Burns atoned later in the game, scoring a backhand goal of his own off a rebound of a Kevin Labanc shot 2:09 into the 3rd. Labanc picked up an assist for a two-point night and the Sharks held the Blue Jackets scoreless over the remainder of the game to win their first game without their team leader in points.

Saturday night the Sharks welcome back a familiar face to the Shark Tank, with another former captain Joe Pavelski making his first appearance in San Jose since signing with the Dallas Stars in the offseason. Patrick Marleau will be appearing in career game 1,700.

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