Sharks

Joe Pavelski, Max Pacioretty have more in common than their captaincies

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Joe Pavelski, Max Pacioretty have more in common than their captaincies

Had the NHL decided to go to the Pyeongchang Olympics in February, Joe Pavelski and Max Pacioretty likely would have been announced as members of the United States team during Monday’s Winter Classic. The NHL won’t go, and the two weren’t named, even though they should have been near locks.  

Few players have scored more goals than the Sharks and Canadiens captains from the beginning of the 2013-14 until now. They’re first and third, respectively, among American goal-scorers, and third and eighth among all goal-scorers regardless of nationality.

This season, they’re in a tie for 20th...if you combine their goal totals, that is. Pavelski and Pacioretty have scored a combined 16 goals (eight each), nine fewer than the league leader Nikita Kucherov.

It hasn’t been a banner season for either of the Captains America, and both appear in need of the fictional Cap’s super-soldier serum. Pacioretty enters Tuesday night’s matchup between San Jose and Montreal on a 12-game goal-less skid, and he failed to find the back of the net in the month of December.

Pavelski, meanwhile, is on a considerably hotter streak than his Canadiens counterpart, at least on paper. He’s scored five points in his last five, and four goals in his last 13 games.

But when you take a closer look, it’s apparent that Pavelski’s also struggled lately.

He last scored a five-on-five goal on December 1. That was a day after Pacioretty scored his last goal.

Neither is playing much differently, let alone much worse, than they have in the past. Pavelski (13.16 five-on-five shot attempts per 60 minutes, according to Corsica Hockey) and Pacioretty (18.83) are shooting a tiny bit less this season, to the tune of just over one fewer shot attempt per hour at even strength compared to the last four seasons.

It’s even less of a difference when you look at shots, with Pavelski taking 0.07 fewer five-on-five shots every 60 minutes than he did over the last four seasons. Pacioretty, meanwhile, is taking 0.46 fewer shots.

Decimal places of difference can’t definitively describe such a drastic drop-off. Neither can age, even though both players a year older, nor injury and illness, which Pavelski and Pacioretty have respectively encountered.

The boring answer is that both players have been really unlucky, as the puck isn’t going in.

Their personal shooting percentages across all situations are among the lowest in their respective careers. If Pavelski and Pacioretty converted at a career-average clip, they’d have about 11 and 16, respectively.

That would still be concerning for Pavelski, but feels appropriate when you remember he turned 33 in July. Pacioretty, meanwhile, would be a top-20 goal-scorer.

Regression to the mean, more than anything, is what the American captains of the Sharks and Canadiens need in 2018. They won’t have the opportunity to wear the red, white, and blue in February, but just may be in Olympic-level form by then.

Sharks have tall task against Penguins, who are in Stanley Cup form

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Sharks have tall task against Penguins, who are in Stanley Cup form

The Sharks witnessed firsthand the emergence of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native Nathan Mackinnon as a legitimate superstar in a loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday. Naturally, their reward is to face the NHL's first superstar from the area on Saturday. 

And of course, much like Mackinnon, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is playing some of the best hockey of his career. 

In 2018, no player has scored more points than the three-time Stanley Cup champion (15). In fact, three of the top five scorers in the new year skate in the Steel City: Evgeni Malkin is tied for third with 13 points, and Phil Kessel is right behind him in a tie for fifth with 12 points. 

The trio has powered the Penguins to a three-point lead on the Eastern Conference's final Wild Card spot. As recently as New Year's Eve, though, the Penguins were seventh place in the loaded Metropolitan Division, and three points back of the postseason. 

It was always a matter of 'when' rather than 'if' Pittsburgh would turn it on. Fatigue was always a possibility, as the back-to-back champions have played at least 13 more postseason games (49) than any other team in the league over the last two seasons, but any concerns seem firmly in the rearview mirror at the moment. 

The same cannot necessarily be said about the Sharks, whom the Penguins dispatched in six games in San Jose's first Stanley Cup Final appearance. Yes, they've won three out of four since the bye week, but haven't played all that well in the process.

Two of those wins came against the lowly Coyotes, and San Jose has barely out-possesed their opponents (50.74 five-on-five corsi-for percentage; 51.22 fenwick-for percentage, according to Corsica Hockey). They're scoring nearly a goal more per 60 minutes of five-on-five play (2.69) than before the bye (1.85), but are allowing nearly one-and-a-quarter more goals (3.58 five-on-five GA/60) than before the bye week (2.24).

The latter is, at least in part, because Martin Jones is not playing well. The Conn Smythe-like form that kept the Sharks in it against the Penguins two Junes ago has largely eluded him this season, and injury may have played a part. 

Jones is day-to-day with a minor injury, according to the Bay Area News Group's Paul Gackle, and the team recalled goaltender Troy Grosenick from the San Jose Barracuda on Friday as a result. That leaves Aaron Dell in net as the last line of defense against the Penguins. 

With Pittsburgh looking a lot like the team that celebrated a Stanley Cup win on San Jose's home ice two postseasons ago, stopping them will be a tall task. 

DeBoer's defense of Jones doesn't paint the whole picture

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DeBoer's defense of Jones doesn't paint the whole picture

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer passionately defended goaltender Martin Jones following San Jose's 5-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night. For the eighth time in his last 14 starts, Jones allowed four goals, but DeBoer tried to take a look at the bigger picture. 

"You guys like to grab little pictures of things that work for the story your writing," DeBoer told reporters in Denver after he was asked about Jones' recent struggles. 

"It's 14 games. You can go back six games and write whatever story you want. He's having a great year for us. Our goaltending has been excellent all year."

If you look at his save percentage, Jones is not having a great season.

His save percentage in all situations (.9097) is the lowest in his three seasons in teal, and ranks 22nd out of the 34 goalies that have played 1000 minutes in all situations, according to Corsica Hockey. His five-on-five save percentage (.9147) is also the lowest of his teal tenure, and sits 26th out of 30 goalies that have played 1000 five-on-five minutes. 

But save percentage doesn't always tell the whole story, as it doesn't take into account shot quality. As we've written previously, Jones has played behind a loose defense this season.

Among those aforementioned 30 goalies, Jones has faced the highest percentage of high-danger shots, the second-highest percentage of medium-danger shots, and fourth-lowest percentage of low-danger shots. 

Luckily, there's a metric that does take into account shot quality: goals saved above average (GSAA). GSAA works much like Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in baseball, and considers how well a league-average goaltender would do "based on the shot danger faced," according to Corsica's definition.

Jones has been better than his save percentage would indicate. His 0.54 five-on-five GSAA ranks 17th out of the 30 goalies that have played 1000 five-on-five minutes, and his all situations GSAA (8.69) ranks 11th out of 34 goalies that have played 1000 minutes in all situations. 

GSAA has the same downside as WAR, in that it's an accumulative statistic, and favors players that have played more. In order to equalize for playing time, we can look at GSAA/30 shots faced. 

Jones ranks 17th and 10th in five-on-five (0.03) and all situations (0.31) GSAA/30, respectively, among goaltenders that have played 1000 minutes in such circumstances. In other words, Jones has been about average during five-on-five play, and one of the league's better goalies across all situations, at least based on the kind of shots he's faced.

That's not neccessarily "great," but Jones has been better on the whole than his recent play would indicate. Of course, he's also been outplayed in his own crease.

Backup goaltender Aaron Dell not only boasts a higher save percentage than Jones, but his GSAA/30 in five-on-five situations (0.15) and across all strengths (0.44) are also higher than Jones'. Every 30 shots on the penalty kill, Dell (2.05 GSAA/30) saves nearly a goal more than Jones (1.06). 

DeBoer also acknowledged that Dell will have to play more out of necessity, with the Sharks halfway through a stretch of eight games in 13 days. That includes a difficult back-to-back this weekend, hosting the Penguins Saturday and facing the Ducks in Anaheim on Sunday. 

The coach was on to something on Thursday. Yes, Jones has been better than his recenty play, and his season-long save percentage, would indicate. 

But that doesn't mean he's been "great," nor does it mean he's San Jose's better option in net right now.