Sharks

Several Sharks to consider Europe if locked out

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Several Sharks to consider Europe if locked out

SAN JOSE The countdown is on, as NHL Lockout 2012 approaches, but the majority of the San Jose Sharks are still enjoying their ice time, workout room and locker room as they prepare for a season that will almost certainly be delayed.
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Theres a good chance, though, that the players who gathered on Thursday at Sharks Ice for another captains skate will be lacing up their skates in rinks in various corners of the world if the work stoppage drags on. The lockout begins Saturday at 9:00 p.m. PST if no deal is reached.

If the owners say they cant play here, there are more than a few options abroad.

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You want to play games. You train all summer, and thats what you work for, said defenseman Justin Braun, who inked a three-year contract extension in the offseason and admitted that Europe could be an option. You dont want to just keep training. Not that you slack on it, but it just gets old, and you might not have that drive as much. Games really keep you fresh and get you ready for when the season starts here.

TJ Galiardi said: I think everyone obviously wants to play here, but if thats not an option, youve got to look somewhere else. Youve got to stay sharp, because when it eventually comes back, you dont want to be sloppy and a step behind.

It was evident on Thursday morning that some players are remaining more hopeful than others that an 11th-hour deal will be struck, although press conferences from union head Donald Fehr and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman only seemed to establish how entrenched each side is in terms of its respective position. In other words, the sides arent close.

Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, for example, said he hasnt even thought about playing somewhere else yet this fall.

My only thought is to play this year in the NHL, said the 25-year-old. Hopefully we can. If we dont, Ill have to think about it after.

Finlands Antti Niemi and Czech native Marty Havlat have also not given Europe a whole lot of thought, although Havlat said he could likely play for his hometown team of HC Sparta Praha, where he spent the previous lockout in 2004-05.

Well see whats going to happen Saturday, and well go from there, Havlat said.

A report surfaced last week that several European teams have expressed interest in Sharks sniper Logan Couture, who tied for the team lead with 31 goals last season. At just 23 years old and coming off of summer shoulder surgery, Couture seems like the perfect candidate to begin the season overseas if the NHL season is delayed.

Yeah, I think so, if its a long time, Couture said, when asked if hes considering it. Everyone wants to play. Wed have to look at other options if it goes for awhile, so well see when the time comes. We dont know how long or even if its going to happen right now.

Still, Couture said: We want to play in the NHL, this is the best league in the world.

Older players like Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle went through this circus once already. Thornton spent the last NHL season of 2004-05 in Switzerland, where he eventually met his wife and still maintains a residence, while Boyle suited up for a Swedish team.

Last month, Thornton denied a report out of Switzerland (through his agent and brother, John) that he had already made plans to start the season there in the event of a lockout. I asked Joe again today if he had given a return to HC Davos any more thought, now that another lockout is a near certainty.

Not really, he said. Once the owners say hey, youre locked out, Ill probably look at it a lot harder. Until the 15th, Im here and ready to play and thinking about this upcoming season. I havent really thought about going anywhere, and I hope I dont have to. Hopefully they get it figured out."

But...

When that lockout comes, Ill have to think about doing something, yeah.

Boyle wont be going anywhere this time around, opting to stay local and close to his two daughters and wait it out, but he encourages the younger players on the team to explore their options.

Im glad I went. It was a good experience, Boyle said. For the guys that havent gone its certainly its definitely a change. Its a different lifestyle. But, you only live once, so its something to experience.

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.