Sharks

Sharks, Hurricanes separated by smallest of margins

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USATSI

Sharks, Hurricanes separated by smallest of margins

Few teams possess the puck more than the Sharks and Hurricanes, but plenty of teams score more.

According to Puck on Net, when adjusting for score and venue, San Jose and Carolina are in the top four of both major possession metrics (corsi and fenwick). They’re 11th and first in the league, respectively, in shots per game, and 29th and 30th in shots allowed.

The Hurricanes and Sharks are also first (54.43 percent) and 13th (50.96 percent) in five-on-five scoring chance percentage, per Natural Stat Trick. Despite this, neither team can finish: Carolina (7.53 percent) is 30th and San Jose is 29th (7.74 percent) in all situations, according to Corsica Hockey.

Unsurprisingly, both teams are in the bottom five of goals for per game this season. Yet, San Jose’s holding on to the last wild card spot in the Western Conference, with at least a game in hand on the three teams chasing them (Calgary, Anaheim, Minnesota), and on the two teams they’re chasing in the Pacific (Vegas, Vancouver).

Carolina, on the other hand, is six points out of the last wild card spot in the East, albeit with three games in hand. Goaltending, particularly on the penalty kill, has been the difference.

Across all situations, the Hurricanes have the league’s 23rd-best save percentage (.900), while the Sharks are second-best (.922). That gap is driven by a shorthanded save percentage disparity, as only half a percentage point separates San Jose (.925) and Carolina (.920) at even strength, per Corsica.

The Sharks have the league’s second-best penalty kill save percentage (.917), while the Hurricanes have the third-worst (.826). If Carolina had gotten San Jose’s shorthanded goaltending this season, they’d have allowed about seven fewer goals.

Excluding shootouts, the Hurricanes’ goal-differential is minus-seven.

The five-on-five difference, assuming they got the same goaltending as the Sharks, is approximately three goals. That’s on a much larger sample size (518 more shots) than the penalty kill.

That shorthanded difference can’t entirely be explained by each team’s respective defense. San Jose allows nearly five fewer scoring chances per 60 minutes on the penalty kill than Carolina, but the Hurricanes allow far fewer shots (50.4 shots against/60) than the Sharks do (59.7).

Taken as a whole, this demonstrates that the margins truly matter for teams struggling to score. The Sharks have gotten better goaltending on the penalty kill, if not necessarily a better defensive performance than the Hurricanes, and find themselves on the right side of the playoff bubble.

If they start to falter shorthanded, however, it’s easy to envision them in the same position as Carolina: on the outside looking in.

Martin Jones has not made up for Sharks' recent defensive struggles

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AP

Martin Jones has not made up for Sharks' recent defensive struggles

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.

 

Sharks comeback falls short in wild loss to Minnesota

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USATSI

Sharks comeback falls short in wild loss to Minnesota

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- Nino Niederreiter scored 3:26 into overtime and the Minnesota Wild beat the San Jose Sharks 4-3 on Sunday night after squandering a three-goal lead.

Eric Staal scored twice and Ryan Murphy added a goal as the Wild extended their winning streak over the Sharks to four games.

Tomas Hertl tapped in a loose puck for San Jose with five minutes left in regulation to tie it at 3.

Hertl's goal followed a furious Sharks attack that Wild goalie Alex Stalock was able to fend off until a shot from Dylan DeMelo bounced off his shoulder pads and into no man's land just above the crease.

Brent Burns scored twice for the Sharks, who had won five of seven.

Stalock made 31 saves in his first appearance against his former team. Martin Jones stopped 20 shots for the Sharks.

The Wild, winners in four of their last five games, scored twice in the first 10 minutes. A series of sharp passes set up Murphy for a power-play goal just more than four minutes in. Staal sent a pass to Jason Zucker behind the net and he found Murphy for a 1-on-1 score.

Staal's first goal came after Ryan Suter recognized an advantage when Burns ran into Jones, knocking him off his feet. Suter delivered a pass to Staal, who easily fired it over Jones.

Early in the second period, Staal was able to push the puck through Jones' skates for a 3-0 Wild lead.

Burns got the Sharks on the scoreboard with a power-play goal during a two-man advantage late in the second period. Burns scored again on a power play with a slap shot from just inside the blue line midway through the third, his 12th multi-goal game.

NOTES: Sharks forward Jannik Hansen appeared in his 600th NHL game. ... Burns has six points in his last three games, including three goals. ... Murphy scored his first goal in 69 games. ... Staal had his second multi-goal effort in five games. ... Wild forward Jason Zucker has points in eight of his last nine games.

UP NEXT

Wild: Open a three-game homestand against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday.

Sharks: Begin a three-game road trip in Calgary on Thursday.