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.

The world’s most famous arena is a house of horrors for Sharks

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USATI

The world’s most famous arena is a house of horrors for Sharks

Whenever the NHL's schedule comes out, a trip to Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers is usually a highlight. A matchup against one of the league's biggest teams, in the country's biggest city, in a historic venue? That's a date worth circling.

If the San Jose Sharks circle it, it’s for entirely different reasons.

Throughout the entirety of the franchise’s 26-season existence, the Garden has been anything but welcoming. The Sharks have traveled to the world’s most famous arena 17 times, and have only skated off with a win four times. They didn’t even win a game there until October 19, 1999, in San Jose’s eighth appearance in the building.

Madison Square Garden has been “King” Henrik Lundqvist’s castle against the Sharks. The king in the castle is also the moat surrounding it: In four career appearances against San Jose at home, Lundqvist has only allowed four goals.

The Sharks haven’t been able to solve his squires, either, losing games to two of his most recent back-ups: Martin Biron, now on television, and Antti Raanta, now in Arizona. Lundqvist will likely start on Monday night, but if he doesn’t, this is probably the one instance where San Jose wouldn’t want to face Ondrej Pavelec, even though he’s never managed to eclipse a .920 save percentage in a season.

That’s because the team’s most recent appearances at the Garden have been among their worst. The Sharks have been shut out twice in their last four visits to Manhattan, and have only scored five goals over that span. They did manage to win one game, thanks to a Lundqvist-like shutout from then-goaltender Antti Niemi in 2014.  

Martin Jones, on the other hand, has been decidedly unlike Lundqvist. He’s allowed nine goals on 55 shots in two road starts against the original six franchise, good for an .837 save percentage. The skaters in front of him exactly helped Jones, either. The Sharks have played from behind in their last two trips to Madison Square Garden, failing to score first and trailing after the first two periods both times.

Those recent struggles are especially strange, given Peter DeBoer’s relative success in the building. He won big road games against the Rangers before assuming his role behind the Sharks’ bench, most notably two in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, when DeBoer’s Devils upset the top-seeded Rangers. Once you coach this team in that arena, though, all bets are off.

Somehow, in a month known for horror, there may be nothing scarier than the thought of the Sharks playing in Madison Square Garden.

Something smells fishy about Sharks' early success on power play

Something smells fishy about Sharks' early success on power play

By many traditional measures, the Sharks’ power play is off to a strong start.

They’ve scored seven times on 30 opportunities, including once in Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders. That mark, 23.3%, would have been good enough for third in the league last season, and is nearly seven percent better than the Sharks were in 2016-17.

San Jose’s made some changes on the man advantage, and are getting a different look on their top power play unit with Tim Heed there instead of another forward. Second-year forward Kevin Labanc is playing a significant role on the second unit, operating as something of a focal point.

The puck’s found the net a lot for the Sharks on the power play, but a deeper look at the numbers reveals that success may be a house of cards.

According to Natural Stat Trick, San Jose ranks in the bottom third of the league in shots, shot attempts, and unblocked shot attempts per 60 minutes. Using those rates allow us to compare teams empirically, equalizing for the amount of time each team has spent on the power play. Those rates, by the way, are not very good.

And each of those are lower than last season, when the Sharks finished 25th in power play percentage. This season, the Sharks are converting more shots, despite attempting less.

It would be tempting to think San Jose can hang their helmets on higher shot quality, but they’ve struggled in that area, too. The Sharks finished just shy of the top ten in high danger chances per 60 minutes last season, but are in the bottom third of the league this season, according to Natural Stat Trick.

So the Sharks are shooting at a lower rate and generating chances at a lower rate than last season, when they had one of the league’s worst power plays, but are scoring at a much higher clip. They’ve converted on about 19% of their shots on the power play, almost doubling their conversion rate (10.5%) from a season ago.

If this doesn’t seem like a sustainable mix, that’s because it’s not. In a small sample size of seven games, the power play’s been good enough, but the Sharks can’t count on converting nearly a fifth of their power play opportunities if they continue to struggle generating shots and chances.

Of course, stranger things have happened in a hockey season, so it’s possible the Sharks can ride a sky-high shooting percentage all season long. Banking on that, however, would be foolhardy.