SAN JOSE – Perhaps when Logan Couture accused Sidney Crosby of cheating in the faceoff circle, it was a desperate ploy. But, hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. The Pittsburgh Penguins had just won the first two games of the Stanley Cup final and Crosby was eating them alive in the faceoff circle.
Whatever the intent, it’s worked. Prior to Couture’s comments after Crosby won a crucial draw in overtime that led to the game-winner, Crosby had won 26 of 40 faceoffs for a mind-boggling success rate of 65 percent. But in Games 3, 4 and 5, Crosby was a combined 37-44 in the faceoff circle for a success rate of just 45.7 percent.
Of course, Couture is accustomed to having a profound impact on things. In the 30 games Couture missed with two gruesome injuries this season, the Sharks weren’t even a .500 team. With him in the lineup, they put up 69 points in 52 games, a pace that would have given them 109 over the course of an 82-season. That would have tied them with the Dallas Stars for first in the Western Conference.
And with nine goals and an NHL-leading 29 points in 23 playoff games, Couture is on a 103-point tear himself in the post-season. Now, that’s clutch. In fact, Couture is one of the few players whose production actually rises in the playoffs. In large part because of this year’s exploits, Couture has 65 career points in 79 playoff games, giving him an average of 0.82 per game. With 323 points in 451 regular-season games, he averages just 0.75 points per game. In these playoffs, Couture has four three-point games and eight games in which he’s scored more than one point. Now, that’s clutch.
“It’s the best part of the year,” Couture said. “The NHL playoffs are, in my mind, the best sport to watch, the best sport to be a part of. You appreciate how tough it is on a nightly basis to win and it’s a lot of fun.”
It should be, since the regular season was anything but fun at times for Couture. The Sharks were 3-0-0 and had outscored their opponents 12-1 when Couture went down with a fractured right fibula in a practice in New Jersey. Couture missed almost two months with the injury, then received the scare of his life in his third game back. In a road game against the Edmonton Oilers, Couture took a hit along the boards and reinjured the right leg. He had to leave the game, but it was on the flight home that Couture and his teammates really began to get nervous. The leg had ballooned in size to the point where Couture had to be taken directly to the hospital.
“(Sharks backup goalie) Alex Stalock had to actually take me off the plane on wheelchair because I couldn’t walk,” Couture said. “It was scary because you never know. I was in the hospital and I got an MRI and when I came out, there were eight to 10 doctors staring at my MRI so I knew something was pretty seriously wrong.”
It turned out Couture had suffered an arterial bleed in his thigh and needed surgery. Although doctors assured him that he would make a full recovery, the injury rattled Couture. “I was scared,” Couture said. “It was probably as bad as it’s been in my life.”
If Couture was affected by the injury psychologically, it didn’t show. He had two assists in his first game back and the Sharks began to take off. When Couture came back into the lineup for good Dec. 30, the Sharks were 17-16-2 and closer to winning the draft lottery than finishing in the playoffs. They went 29-14-4 the rest of the way, with Couture scoring 34 of his 36 points in the final 50 games.
Couture has developed into one of the game’s premier two-way players, a dependable forward who can be relied upon in any situation. It’s hard to believe that with his playoff performance he won’t be involved with Canada’s World Cup team. Meanwhile, Couture’s skating has improved to the point where he can play an effective 200-foot game. There have been only minor tweaks to his footwork, with no full-scale changes.
“None at all,” he said when asked what adjustments he’s made to his skating. “I don’t have a skating coach, I don’t do power skating. I never really have. My parents always told me just to go out, have fun and play hockey and whatever happens happens."