has always been known as a well rounded player, but his traditional scoring rate has him setting teammates up more often than he lights the lamp himself.
During San Jose his time the past two seasons, his stats seem to be inverted. Last season Couture scored five times in 25 regular season games. This year he’s equaled that in just 12 games. That’s 10 goals to five assists during the time span.
“I think this year I decided I’m just going to play my game, no matter who I am playing with,” Couture said. “If I get the chance to shoot, I’m going to shoot. If I get it to those two (he’s currently playing with Patrick Marleau
and Dany Heatley), the puck is usually going to end up in the back of the net. If there is a chance to give them the puck, I’ll give them the puck.”
Couture may come across as quiet in the way he conducts himself, but on the ice, he does whatever is necessary to win every battle. He exudes a confidence when he has his uniform on and that could be a reason he is shooting so much when he has the puck. After 12 games, Couture is tied for third in goals, tied for second in shots, tied for first in game-winning goals and tied for second in plus/minus.
“His confidence in his ability is the key,” Marleau said. “He’s played well so he’s gained more confidence. He knows what it takes to win games and what the coaches want out of him.”
When the coaches find that comfort level with a player, they will just hand him more and more, like asking him to fill in for Thornton when the all-star center is out.
“I ask the question, what happens first?” McLellan questioned. “Does the player play well and expose himself to his teammates and the coaches and get really confident. Or are the coaches really confident in a player and they put him in a situation and away he goes. In our case a lot of times it’s the player who exposes himself and gets better and better. He did that in the playoffs. He didn’t do that in training camp last year. He had to go down and learn the hard way. He came back and now we feel really good about playing him there.”
McLellan’s compliments make it seem like Couture is just beginning to show his talents, which is very likely considering the NHL still considers him a rookie.
“As far as playing with anybody, he is a world class player and should feel confident in that situation,” McLellan said of filling in for Thornton with Heatley and Marleau. “He should want the puck from them as much as they want it from him and that is how lines work effectively. If you have one player always deferring to the stars, if often doesn’t work. That’s why we felt Logan might fit. He might only be young age-wise.”
“I think he’s just playing his game and doing what he does,” Dany Heatley said. “I’ve said it before, from the start of training camp until now, he’s been great. As long as someone is putting it in the net we don’t care who it is.”
Every player has a skill that stands out for them. Thornton’s passing. Marleau’s skating. Heatley’s shot. Murray’s hitting. For Couture, what his teammates benefit from the most is an ability that is hard to define.
“He’s really good at winning battles. Getting pucks out of people’s feet and from the corners,” Heatley said of how Couture can help extend offensive possessions. “He’s got a pretty good stick at picking off passes and knocking down passes. It creates second and third chances for his linemates. A lot of our goals the other night (the line accounted for four of five Sharks tallies) were products of having the puck in there end.”
“He protects the puck really well,” Marleau said. “The more he plays the more people are going to notice him.”
McLellan described it as being relentless in the puck possession battle.
“He’s a puck hound, he hounds the puck,” McLellan noted. “He’s got his nose over the puck all the time. He doesn’t swing through the battles, he stays in the battles. He keeps plays alive and keeps it going. Less time in your end, more time in their end.”
Couture said hearing those compliments means a quite a bit to a still developing player.
“It’s good to hear and get a compliment from those guys,” Couture said. “It’s pretty special. It’s so hard in this game to get the puck so you don’t want to give it up. I don’t know what the stat is, but you’re chasing the puck 98 percent of the game, so if you get it, you want to hold on to it for as long as you can.”
The scoring may balance out and the assists may start racking up for “puck hound” soon, but what will be really impressive is what could happen as he keeps gaining even more confidence.
San Jose will host Anaheim Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and the game will be on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com. Tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com.