Sharks

Sharks putting Thornton in position to succeed coming off major knee injury

jumbo-ap.jpg
AP

Sharks putting Thornton in position to succeed coming off major knee injury

Only 19 other players in NHL history have accomplished what Joe Thornton did on Wednesday night, scoring 1400 career points. The 38-year-old’s second period assist was his ninth point in 12 games this season, and the eighth in his last eight games.

All things considered, that’s not bad for a player in his 20th NHL season, let alone one coming off of offseason knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL.

Perhaps because of that, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer has utilized Thornton a bit differently this season. According to Corsica, Thornton has started 63.27 percent of his even strength shifts beginning outside of the neutral zone in the offensive zone.

Since zone start tracking became publicly available in 2007, Thornton has never started a higher percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone. Kevin Labanc, Thornton’s linemate, is the only Sharks forward that has started a higher percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone this season.

This makes all kinds of sense. Before his knee injury, it appeared age was starting to catch up to Thornton, if it hadn’t already. His 50 points in 79 games last season were the fewest since he was a 19-year-old in Boston.

The Sharks have taken greater steps to mitigate Thornton’s inevitable decline this season, but it hasn’t led to a true breakthrough at even strength.

Four of Thornton’s nine points this season have come on the power play, as Thornton’s been a bit unlucky at even strength. He has only one primary assist during five-on-five play, in part because the Sharks have scored on only 6.9 percent of their shots with Thornton on the ice in even strength situations.

At the same time, Martin Jones and Aaron Dell have only stopped 87.5 percent of the even strength shots they’ve faced with Thornton playing in front of them. That’s not very good, and it likely won’t last much longer.

The Sharks are winning the puck possession battle with Thornton on the ice, routinely controlling the majority of shot attempts. Should that hold, a little regression to the mean in either direction will go a long way towards Thornton getting better results.

That would be good news for Joe Pavelski, who’s scored in each of the last two games, as well as Kevin Labanc, who hasn’t scored an even strength point since Oct. 17. It would also be a welcome development for Thornton, allowing him to move even further up the NHL’s all-time scoring list this season.

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

jones-khudobin-usatsi.jpg
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.

Sharks fall to Bruins for second straight loss

sharks_bruins_usatsi.jpg

Sharks fall to Bruins for second straight loss

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- Anton Khudobin stopped 36 shots to lead the Boston Bruins to a 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.

Peter CehlarikJake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen scored to help the Bruins get their second straight win after a four-game skid (0-3-1). Boston had totaled nine goals in its previous five games, scoring more than two for just the second time in nine November games.

Khudobin remained unbeaten in regulation (5-0-2) and improved to 4-1 with a 0.99 goals-against average in five games against the Sharks.

Timo Meier scored and Aaron Dell finished with 18 saves for the Sharks, one of the lowest scoring teams in the league. San Jose has been held to two of fewer goals in five of their seven games this month.

Meier gave the Sharks, losers of two straight following wins in six of seven, a short-lived 1-0 lead after tapping in a rebound 4:50 into the game. Daniel O'Regan, making his season debut, won the puck behind the net and skated around to take the shot that bounced to Meier. It was O'Regan's first career assist and second career point.

Cehlarik, in his 14th game, scored his first career goal about 1 1/2 minutes later to tie it for the Bruins.

Boston took the lead on DeBrusk's goal with 9:14 left in the first. Charlie McAvoy cleared a puck in his zone that DeBrusk chased down and easily beat Dell 1-on-1.

Heinen made it 3-1 with 5:51 left in the third. Kevan Miller skated down the ice, drawing all the attention on the right side. He passed across the crease, from where Heinen tapped it in.

The Sharks had a goal negated for the second straight game, this one two minutes in.

NOTES: Sharks F Danny O'Regan was recalled before the game. He's the leading scorer for the Barracuda of the AHL. ... The Sharks have had three consecutive goals reversed after challenges dating to Thursday's game against the Florida Panthers. ... Sharks F Joel Ward has recorded points in six of his last eight games. ... DeBrusk, who assisted on Cehlarik's goal, recorded his first multi-point game since Oct. 14, a span of 14 games.

UP NEXT

Bruins: At the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night.

Sharks: Host the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night.