Sharks

Focus on amount, not appearance, of goals Jones has allowed this season

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USATSI

Focus on amount, not appearance, of goals Jones has allowed this season

Giving up “soft” goals can forever damage a goalie’s reputation.

It happened to former Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi. He was a Vezina finalist in 2013, and stopped a higher percentage of shots than any goaltender in Sharks franchise history. And yet, Niemi’s time in teal was defined by the goals he gave up, and more specifically, how those goals looked. It didn’t matter that his game has fallen off since leaving San Jose, as the narrative was that it already had.

It started to happen to Martin Jones last postseason against Edmonton. It didn’t matter that Jones set a Sharks playoff record in save percentage and kept the Sharks alive in a series in which they were largely outclassed. Just run a Twitter search for “Jones five hole” from April and see the results for yourself.

It’s happening now, too. Jones has been bad by just about any measure. He sits 34th out of 41 goaltenders that have made one start in overall save percentage, and 31st among the same group in even strength save percentage. He’s given up eight goals in two starts, yet most of the concern has been about the appearance of those goals.

On a visceral level, that makes some sense. Goaltender is notoriously tough for scouts and management to evaluate, let alone media and fans, and appearances are easy to identify.

But the aesthetics shouldn’t outweigh the amount of goals allowed.

In two starts, Martin Jones has given up eight goals. That’s not good enough, and it’s where the conversation should really begin and end. Sure, you might feel better about Jones’ performance so far if all of the goals he allowed were the result of an opposing player picking one of the top corners, but the end result is the same. There’s no special classification on the scoreboard for “good” or “bad” goals, after all.

If there was, it would only dilute what makes save percentage such an effective metric: the sample size. At the end of a regular season, a starting goaltender will have faced thousands of shots, giving us enough information to reliably evaluate their performance. If you start picking and choosing goals based on appearance, you’re just cherry-picking data.Right now, we’re talking about 59 shots over two games. That’s hardly enough information to make any long-term conclusions, so why whittle it down even further?

A goaltender’s job is to stop shots, and Jones simply hasn’t stopped enough early in the season. Everything else is just noise.

Sharks face surprisingly tough test in Avalanche

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USATSI

Sharks face surprisingly tough test in Avalanche

On a night when Eric Lindros is getting his number retired, who would have thought one of the NHL's best games involves a team that was the worst a season ago, and another features a team that didn't even exist last year?

Okay, most of the hockey world's eyes will be glued to tonight's Golden Knights-Lightning tilt in Tampa, which surely felt just as weird to write as it did for you to read. But Sharks-Avalanche could have that game beat, and not just because Long Beach native Matt Nieto will play against his former team.

No, the Sharks and Avalanche just happen to be two of the hottest teams in the league.

San Jose has won three in a row, and along with Nashville, holds the league's third-longest active winning streak. Colorado, meanwhile, has won seven in a row, and along with Calgary, holds the league's longest streak.

The Avalanche have not lost in 2018, and since their streak began on Dec. 29, have scored the third-most goals and allowed the fewest. With starter Semyon Varlamov out with a groin strain, backup netminder Jonathan Bernier has stopped all but seven of the shots he's seen, good for a .962 save percentage.

Nathan Mackinnon has emerged as an under-the-radar Hart Trophy candidate, or at least he would have been under-the-radar if seemingly the entire hockey world hadn't made the same observation. He's no longer a dark horse, though, and may be the frontrunner if Colorado is even sniffing the postseason at the end of the year.

After all, the Avalanche were far closer to the 1992-93 Sharks than Colorado's glory days last season, losing the ninth-most games in a single season in NHL history. Entering Thursday, the Avalanche are just two points out of the final wild card spot.

To further drive home just how remarkable the turnaround's been, the Avalanche already have three more points than last season. In 39 fewer games.

Colorado may not be as good as they've been over the last seven games, when they've also led the league in PDO, the sum of save percentage and shooting percentage often used as a shorthand for luck. But during the stretch, the Avalanche are also a positive puck possession team when adjusting for score and venue, according to Natural Stat Trick, and eighth in adjusted corsi-for percentage during the win streak, per Corsica Hockey.

The Sharks, too, have been playing much better than before the bye. Two of the wins on their three-game streak have come against the cellar-dwelling Coyotes, though, and they needed overtime and a shootout to beat them.

The Avalanche will then represent the toughest test for the Sharks following the week off, and a potentially thorny end to their three-game road trip. Who would have thought? 

Pavelski a shootout hero in midst of a career-worst cold streak

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USATSI

Pavelski a shootout hero in midst of a career-worst cold streak

The shootout has been kind to Joe Pavelski all season.

After scoring the shootout winner in Tuesday night’s win over the Coyotes, Pavelski has now scored the fourth-most shootout goals in a single season of his career, and there’s still 39 games left in the season. Only Artemi Panarin has scored more shootout goals (four) than the Sharks captain (three) on the year.

The Sharks have needed Pavelski more than they have after 65 minutes far more than in recent memory. San Jose’s won three games in the shootout this season, one more than last year and one shy from matching their total from the prior two seasons.

Again, there’s still 39 games to go.

San Jose is on pace to win their most games in the shootout since the Todd McLellan era, when they picked up no fewer than five shootout wins each season. This season, those wins are currently the difference between home ice advantage in the first round, as the Sharks are tied for second in the Pacific with two games in hand, and missing the playoffs.

They’ve needed every one of Pavelski’s shootout goals, too. File this under “statistics that are too good to be true,” but the proven postseason performer has scored each of his three shootout goals in San Jose’s three shootout wins, while failing to score in both of their losses.

Pavelski’s needed to deliver in the shootout at least in part because he often has not delivered when actual hockey’s been played. Injuries, age, and an at-times unfathomable lack of luck have all contributed, but the Wisconsin product is in the midst of one of the longest scoring droughts of his career.

He’s not scored an even strength goal since Dec. 1 against Florida. For those keeping score at home, that’s 19 games, a month, and a calendar change ago.

If Pavelski doesn’t score at even strength on Thursday against Colorado, he’ll have matched the longest even strength goal-scoring drought of his career. In 2010-11 and the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Pavelski went 20 games without an even strength tally.

To further put things into perspective, is tied with Joe Thornton and Melker Karlsson for sixth on the team in even strength goals. Thornton’s enjoyed a nice shooting resurgence, but this is an instance where the setup man scoring as much as the sniper is not a positive development.

You can’t only fault for Pavelski for struggling so much, of course, as his team has scored the second-fewest even strength goals in the league this year. He’s also a victim of his own success, and subject to further outsized expectations because of the letter on his chest.

Tuesday showed Pavelski’s still found ways to contribute, even if he hasn’t found the back of the net at even strength. But if Pavelski’s drought lasts beyond Thursday, he’ll be on an unprecedented schnide as far as his career is concerned.

More performances like the former may ultimately be enough to get the Sharks into the postseason. More like the latter won’t get them much farther than that.