For just the third time this season, the Sharks scored three goals for the third consecutive game in Sunday night’s loss to the Wild. San Jose’s scored 13 goals in the last three games, which is a dramatic improvement for one of the league’s lowest-scoring offenses.
Sunday also marked the fourth time in the last five games the Sharks, one of the NHL’s best defensive teams, allowed four goals. All four have come in starts by Martin Jones since he returned to the crease on Dec. 2.
San Jose’s looked poor defensively in front of Jones following his return, and it’s been difficult to fault him on many of the goals. The Sharks’ defensive numbers over his last four starts match the eye test.
Normally, 21.66 percent of the shots Jones faces in five-on-five situations and 26.9 percent of the shots he faces in all situation are of the ‘high-danger’ variety, according to Corsica Hockey. Over his last four starts, those numbers are 29.90 percent and 32.23 percent, respectively.
But Jones also has not been up to his usual standards. At even strength this season, his high-danger save percentage is .798, and .821 in all situations.
Over the last four games, those numbers have fallen significantly. His high-danger save percentage at even strength is over seven points lower (.724), and nearly 13 points lower in all situations (.692).
So the Sharks, essentially, have allowed a higher share of high-danger shots in Jones’ first four starts after coming back from injury. Jones, meanwhile, hasn’t been able to offset that increase.
It’s unclear whether that increase, or Jones’ own performance, deserves a larger share of the blame. It’s clear, however, that the Sharks can’t expect to win if either trend continues.
San Jose’s remained in playoff contention this season because of their defense. As they’ve struggled to score, they’ve prevented their opponents from scoring, and won games on the backs of stingy defensive efforts.
The assumption with the Sharks was that, so long as their defensive effort remained level, an offense rounding into form would allow them to climb up the standings. The former’s gotten worse, and the Sharks are struggling more than their record would indicate.
Since Jones returned, San Jose is 2-2-1, and 1-2-1 in his starts. That mark could very easily be 0-2-2 or 0-3-1, if not for a three-goal comeback against the Hurricanes.
That’s worrisome ahead of one of the most vital stretches of the season. San Jose’s next six games are against divisional opponents, and they have an opportunity to gain significant ground in the division.
That opportunity will be wasted if the Sharks defense, and Jones, aren’t able to tighten up.