Sharks

Sharks closely following Kings blueprint early in the season

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USATSI

Sharks closely following Kings blueprint early in the season

The Sharks' 2-1 win over the Kings on Sunday night was, well, very Kings-like.

At even strength, San Jose largely controlled play, limiting Los Angeles and peppering pucks at Jonathan Quick. Much like those Cup-winning Kings teams, the Sharks only had two goals to show for their efforts. 

In fact, they’ve been pretty Kings-like all season. 

Plenty of digital ink has been spilled here and elsewhere about San Jose’s inability to score. They had scored the fifth-fewest goals in the league (43) entering Monday, and the second-fewest during five-on-five play (24). 

The Stanley Cup champion Kings teams weren’t offensive world-beaters either, ranking 29th and 25th, respectively, in 2011-12 and 2013-14. Those squads controlled play, killed penalties, and boasted strong defensive depth, led by a goaltender capable of catching fire and carrying his team in the postseason. 

Sound familiar? 

It should, because San Jose is in the top six in both major measures of puck possession early in the season, according to Puck on Net. The penalty kill has killed off 88.5% of its opportunities, the second-best mark in the league. 

Brent Burns is off to a slow start, but the emergence of  Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan has solidified what was already one of the league’s best bluelines. Martin Jones’ even strength save percentage remains in the middle of the pack, but that may not matter much if the Sharks continue to limit chances. 

Of course, similar strengths mean there are similar concerns, too. So far, the Sharks have scored on just 8.2 percent of their shots, the 23rd-worst mark in the league. 

The Kings were 30th and 29th in shooting percentage in the regular season of their Cup campaigns, and although there’s hope San Jose will convert more, Los Angeles shows it’s far from a guarantee. 

If that continues, the margin for error becomes razor thin, just as it was for the Kings. Despite winning two Stanley Cups, Los Angeles did not win the Pacific Division during that stretch. They finished 16 points out in 2014, and needed a late-season swing (as well as a new head coach) just to make the postseason in 2012. 

As long as the Sharks struggle to score, even a slight defensive downturn would provide a hurdle on their path to the postseason. The season’s first two games, in which San Jose allowed nine goals and scored only three, are proof of that. 

It's still very early in the season, and San Jose has a long way to go until they're mentioned in the same breath as Los Angeles' title-winning teams. They still trail the Southern California rivals by four points in the division, let alone in Stanley Cup count. 

So far, though, the they're closely following the Kings’ blueprint. It’s led to success through 16 games, but the true test is if it leads to 16 wins in April, May, and June.

Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

For just the second time this season, the San Jose Sharks have lost consecutive games.

It’s the first time since the club opened the season 0-2, and were outscored 9-4. San Jose played much better in Thursday’s loss to Florida and Saturday’s defeat at the hands of Boston than they did to start the campaign, but have now been on the wrong side of four goal reviews.

The Sharks have lost each of the last two games by two goals, so there’s an understandable temptation to chalk these losses up to questionable officiating. Yet even if you disregard the notion that the officials got each call right (which they did), it’s one that must be resisted.

Their actual lack of offense, not a perceived lack of good officiating, is the main culprit behind the losing streak.

Timo Meier’s goal on Saturday stands as San Jose’s lone tally on this three-game homestand. It’s not for a lack of trying: The Sharks pumped 72 shots on net in the last two games, but could not solve Roberto Luongo or Anton Khudobin.

You can blame the officiating in San Jose’s last two losses all you want, but a good offensive team would have converted subsequent chances to make up for the goals taken off the board. The Sharks have not been a good offensive team this season, and could not make up for it.

San Jose’s inability to finish chances has been their main weakness all season, but they were still able to win games thanks to their defense and goaltending. The latter’s lapsed at times over the last two games, and the former let them down on Saturday when Aaron Dell allowed three goals on only 20 shots.

But that, as well as the discussion around the recent officiating, only serves to mask the Sharks’ real issue. San Jose just simply cannot score.

They’ve only scored on 7.41 percent of their shots this season, according to Natural Stat Trick, which is the third-worst rate in the league. There’s too much talent on the roster to expect that to continue all season, but the Sharks faltered offensively down the stretch last season, too.

Plus, they’re relying significantly on players on the wrong side of 30. Brent Burns, 32, hasn’t scored a goal, and Joe Pavelski, 33, is on pace to score fewer than 20 goals.

He hasn’t failed to reach that mark in a decade. At some point, it must be asked: are the Sharks just unlucky, or is age catching up to their star players?

The answer is probably a bit of both. How much of a role either factor has played is up for debate, but that either has led to San Jose’s failure to score goals is not.

Poor officiating is easier to diagnose than a poor offense, but it’s the latter, not the former, that’s responsible for the Sharks’ most recent skid.

Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be

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USATSI

Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be

Martin Jones was a Boston Bruin for less than a week.

The “Original Six” franchise acquired Jones from the Los Angeles Kings on June 26, 2015. Four days later, Jones was traded back into the Pacific Division, this time to Northern California.

The Sharks gave up a first round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly for Jones. It seemed like a fairly high price at the time, but it’s one San Jose was happy to pay: No goalie started more games than Jones over the last two seasons, and the team signed him to a five-year extension this summer.

The first Jones trade in 2015 set off a flood of goalie transactions, as five netminders were traded during Jones’ extremely brief Boston tenure. One of those was Anton Khudobin, who will start for the Bruins as Jones backs up Aaron Dell against  his “former team” on Saturday night.

Khudobin was traded from Carolina to Anaheim, where he started seven games before getting sent down to the AHL. He then signed with Boston in 2016, returning to his former club as the Bruins tried to fill the hole that trading Jones left behind entrenched starter Tuukka Rask.

Jones and Khudobin will have taken vastly different paths to their respective creases on Saturday night. The former enters the game as his club’s undisputed franchise goalie, and the latter the unheralded backup.

Naturally then, Khudobin’s been the better goaltender this season.

Among the 46 goalies that have played 200 five-on-five minutes this season, Khudobin’s .962 five-on-five save percentage was the best entering Saturday, according to Corsica.  So, too, is his .954 save percentage off of high-danger shots.

Jones, meanwhile, ranks 27th (.920) and 14th (.833) in those respective categories.

What does it all mean? For one, it’s early in the season, and the fact that Khudobin’s made seven fewer starts undoubtedly plays a role in his superior performance to Jones.

Mainly, it speaks to just how fickle goaltending can be.

The Bruins backup is arguably getting the nod Saturday night because of how bad the man ahead of him has been. Rask, once one of the league’s best goaltenders, has steadily declined over the last three years and reached a new low this season: This year, he’s 40th out of 46 qualifying goalies in five-on-five save percentage.

Jones has demonstrated this, too. He’s stopped a lower percentage of low-and-medium danger shots at even strength than the last two seasons, but has stopped a higher percentage of high-danger shots.

Plus, he’s played behind one of the league’s best penalty-killing teams after playing behind one of its worst last season, and has benefitted from a corresponding bump in his shorthanded save percentage.

So much of what a goalie does is out of their control. Yet who’s playing in front of them, what kind of shots they see, and how often they see those shots all can affect their performance.

Khudobin and Jones are living proof of that this season.