EDMONTON – It was the second period of Game 1 on Wednesday night when Logan Couture's injured mouth was given, shall we say, a little test.
The Oilers' Eric Gryba finished his check along the wall, but got Couture up high in the process. The big defenseman was issued a two-minute minor for elbowing. Couture looked a bit uncomfortable after the hit, but was right back out there for the ensuing power play.
After the game, a 3-2 Sharks overtime win, he spoke about the borderline play.
"He got his elbow up in my head. It's a penalty," Couture said. "If they're going to run around and make hits like that, they're going to the penalty box, and I'm sure [Oilers coach Todd McLellan is] not too happy with that. So, it's part of the game, part of hockey, getting hit – and they took a lot of penalties tonight."
As for Couture's overall game, he was noticeably off. Afterwards, he said: "I just wasn't very good."
Although he hit the post on a first period power play, taking time in the circle to pick his spot before firing the puck, he was scoreless with just one shot on goal and three missed shots in more than 20 minutes of ice time. He was kept off of the penalty kill.
Still, just being in the lineup was an accomplishment, as Couture's mouth was rearranged on March 25 when a deflected puck knocked more than half a dozen teeth from his mouth and missed the final seven regular season games. He has a summer of dental work ahead.
"I think it was just good to handle the puck and feel the pressure," he said. "Two-and-a-half weeks doesn't sound like a long time, but it is a long time when you don't play games. For me, I enjoy handling the puck, and I was just off with timing and stick-handling and making plays, receiving passes. Everything wasn't there."
"I wasn't very effective, but happy to get a game under my belt. I can play a lot better than I did tonight. But the team won, and at this point of the year that's all that matters."
Coach Pete DeBoer mentioned on Thursday that Couture playing at all was a credit to his competitiveness after his brutal ordeal.
"I thought it was a gutsy performance by him," DeBoer said. "He has high standards for himself, which is what makes him great. If you knew what he had been through in the last month, the damage to his face, his mouth, what he's been able to eat and drink and how little he slept – I thought it was a real gutsy performance. I didn't think he was nearly as bad as he thought he was."
"Let's be honest, this guy is a world-class player. At 75 percent he's still better than most guys in the lineup. And the fact that he wanted to be out there and play, he's a playoff-type player. I don't think it was an accident he led the league in playoff scoring last year. He wasn't going to be kept out of the game last night."