Couture confident Sharks will return to playoffs this season

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Logan Couture said he believes the San Jose Sharks can return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season after he and coach Bob Boughner labeled Tuesday the best day of training camp.

“I think we have a team here that’s going to make the playoffs,” said Couture, the Sharks captain. “There’s a belief in the room, in this organization that if we play the way that we’re capable of we’ll be there at the end of the year.”

The Sharks were not part of the NHL’s Return to Play Plan last season after they finished last in the Western Conference with a .450 points percentage (29-36-5). It was the first time they didn’t qualify for the playoffs since 2015 and the third time since the 1997-98 season.

But Couture, a forward, said he thinks the Sharks will be in the mix this season with the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights, the top three teams in the conference last season who will compete with San Jose, the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, Arizona Coyotes and Minnesota Wild in the Honda West Division.

The first two rounds of the playoffs will be intradivisional, with the first-place team playing the fourth-place team and the second-place team facing the third-place team in the first round.

“If we didn’t [believe] then we’d have problems,” Couture said. “If you can’t see yourself making the playoffs, you’re probably not going to make the playoffs.”

San Jose is conducting its training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona because of health restrictions related to COVID-19 in Santa Clara County, California include a ban on contact sports. The Sharks open the 2020-21 season on Jan. 14 at the Arizona Coyotes, the first of eight straight road games.

Boughner said the veteran core led by Couture, defensemen Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and forwards Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl have been sharp in training camp.

He said they have been attentive and leading the way, signs they learned from last season, when the Sharks struggled in camp and waded into the regular season. They lost their first four games (0-4-0) and 11 of their first 15 (4-10-1), a setback they couldn’t overcome.

“Everybody has a try-to-put-last-year-behind-us attitude,” Boughner said. “Guys are understanding we’ve got to act as a family. Our veterans have set a standard here. They’ve been the hardest working guys at camp.”

Boughner wouldn’t guarantee the Sharks will make the playoffs, but he said he has seen enough thus far to believe they can qualify.

“We have a lot of work before we can say we’re a contender in the top three in our division,” Boughner said. “There’s some great teams, obviously. But we have the makings to be. … We just want to be able to say we’re playing the best we can play as our group and if we can do that and stay healthy, I think we’ll be fighting for a playoff spot at the end of the day.

“Where that puts us in our division, I don’t know. If you’re calling those three teams [St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas] are going to be there, someone has to be the fourth team. Hopefully we slot into one of those top four spots.”

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