Sharks

Three takeaways: Sharks have all but clinched the division

Three takeaways: Sharks have all but clinched the division

SAN JOSE – Apparently sick and tired of not having any success against Buffalo, the Sharks controlled much of Tuesday night’s game against the Sabres in a 4-1 win. Here are our three takeaways from the game, as San Jose has now won three of the first four games on its longest homestand of the season…

1 – The Sharks have pretty much clinched the division

The Sharks (42-20-7, 91 points) have opened up a mammoth nine-point lead on the rest of the Pacific Division. Second place Calgary and Anaheim have 82 points apiece, tied for second place. Every team has 13 games remaining.

Even if the Sharks post just a .500 winning percentage the rest of the way, they’ll finish with 104 points. For the Flames or Ducks to catch them in that scenario, they would have to post a record along the lines of 11-1-1 over their final 13.

No one in the Sharks’ dressing room would say that the race is over, of course.

“We’re not taking anything for granted here, we want to keep winning hockey games,” Martin Jones said. “We’re trying to play for playoffs here. Just got to keep building our game.”

The Sharks are setting their sights on Chicago (93 points) and Minnesota (92 points) instead, assuring home ice advantage throughout the first three rounds.

Pete DeBoer said: “We’ve got to keep our eye on the ball, and that's winning as many games as possible, make sure we're playing the right way heading into the playoffs, and tracking down the teams ahead of us. There's no doubt [the division lead is] nice, but we’ve got a lot of work left to do."

San Jose has not won the Pacific Division since 2011. Anaheim has won it each of the last four seasons, while the Coyotes claimed it in 2012.

2 – Jones benefiting from extra rest

Perhaps no one on the Sharks’ roster, other than maybe captain Joe Pavelski, looks more rejuvenated coming out of the bye week than Jones. The Sharks’ number one netminder has allowed two or fewer goals in each of his last seven starts, and made another 22 saves on Tuesday against Buffalo.

Jones has been getting more rest than usual even after the bye week, as Aaron Dell has started three of the last seven games and figures to get at least four or five more starts before the end of the regular season.

Jones’ biggest save on Tuesday came in the third period, when he sealed his five-hole on a Jack Eichel on a breakaway and Pavelski increased the Sharks’ lead to 3-1 just after that.

“He’s got a lot speed,” Jones said of the Sabres’ young forward. “Our guy was kind of flat-footed, [Eichel] took it to the net. He didn’t have a lot of time or space, so just tried to make sure there wasn’t any holes there.”

The Sharks didn't surrender many prime scoring chances on Jones, as the puck was in their offensive zone for the majority of the night.

“We were in and out of our end pretty quick,” Dylan DeMelo said. “We got in on the forecheck and turned some pucks over, sustained some pretty good O-zone time. The shot totals obviously speak for that.”

3 – Haley adds more than the game-winning goal

Micheal Haley clearly got lucky on his second period goal that put the Sharks up to stay, but he also offered some insight on his more notable role of keeping things honest out there.

In the game’s first minute, Buffalo’s Evander Kane hammered Justin Braun on the forecheck, shaking up the Sharks’ defenseman. Haley found himself on the ice with Kane a few shifts later, and decided to remind Kane that he was in the active lineup, too.

“I was just letting him know that there’s two sides to each team. I can start running people, too,” Haley said. “It was fine, it was nothing. It was just a big hit to start the game, and when I went on [the ice] he was there, so I thought we’d have a little chat.”

Did play calm down after that?

“I think so. I don’t know. I didn’t see anymore big ones,” Haley said.

A good reminder for the advanced stats-only crowd that the game isn’t played in a vacuum, eh?

Something smells fishy about Sharks' early success on power play

Something smells fishy about Sharks' early success on power play

By many traditional measures, the Sharks’ power play is off to a strong start.

They’ve scored seven times on 30 opportunities, including once in Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders. That mark, 23.3%, would have been good enough for third in the league last season, and is nearly seven percent better than the Sharks were in 2016-17.

San Jose’s made some changes on the man advantage, and are getting a different look on their top power play unit with Tim Heed there instead of another forward. Second-year forward Kevin Labanc is playing a significant role on the second unit, operating as something of a focal point.

The puck’s found the net a lot for the Sharks on the power play, but a deeper look at the numbers reveals that success may be a house of cards.

According to Natural Stat Trick, San Jose ranks in the bottom third of the league in shots, shot attempts, and unblocked shot attempts per 60 minutes. Using those rates allow us to compare teams empirically, equalizing for the amount of time each team has spent on the power play. Those rates, by the way, are not very good.

And each of those are lower than last season, when the Sharks finished 25th in power play percentage. This season, the Sharks are converting more shots, despite attempting less.

It would be tempting to think San Jose can hang their helmets on higher shot quality, but they’ve struggled in that area, too. The Sharks finished just shy of the top ten in high danger chances per 60 minutes last season, but are in the bottom third of the league this season, according to Natural Stat Trick.

So the Sharks are shooting at a lower rate and generating chances at a lower rate than last season, when they had one of the league’s worst power plays, but are scoring at a much higher clip. They’ve converted on about 19% of their shots on the power play, almost doubling their conversion rate (10.5%) from a season ago.

If this doesn’t seem like a sustainable mix, that’s because it’s not. In a small sample size of seven games, the power play’s been good enough, but the Sharks can’t count on converting nearly a fifth of their power play opportunities if they continue to struggle generating shots and chances.

Of course, stranger things have happened in a hockey season, so it’s possible the Sharks can ride a sky-high shooting percentage all season long. Banking on that, however, would be foolhardy.

Sharks come up short in New York despite Couture's hat trick

Sharks come up short in New York despite Couture's hat trick

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Anders Lee had two goals and an assist to lead the New York Islanders to a 5-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.

John Tavares had a goal and two assists, Josh Bailey added a goal and an assist, and Andrew Ladd also scored to help the Islanders win for the third time in four games. Thomas Greiss stopped 28 shots.

Logan Couture scored all three goals for the Sharks, completing the hat trick with 1:52 remaining to pull them within one. Aaron Dell finished with 18 saves.

Ladd's goal at 3:12 of the third period broke a 2-2 tie. Rookie Mathew Barzal created the scoring chance by taking the puck around the net and then setting up Ladd in the high slot for his second of the season.

Lee's second of the game and fifth of the season gave the Islanders a two-goal cushion with 8:13 remaining as he converted an odd-man rush.

Tavares sealed the win with an empty-netter with 55.4 seconds remaining and helped improve to 22-4-4 in their two-plus seasons at Barclays Center. Tavares points were his first since he had two goals and an assist Oct. 7 against Buffalo, ending a five-game drought.

The Sharks scored the game's opening goal at 6:26 of the second period on the power play. San Jose came away with the offensive draw and Couture scored from the slot, redirected Brent Burns' point shot past Greiss.

The lead lasted just over a minute as Nick Leddy worked his way to the back of the net and then quickly fed Lee for the tying goal.

The Islanders went ahead 58 seconds later after Joe Thornton made a costly turnover in his own end to give Bailey a point-blank chance. Bailey was able to sneak the puck with a backhander between his skates and past Dell to put New York ahead 2-1.

However, an impressive effort by Jannik Hansen to spin past Brock Nelson in the neutral zone led to a quick feed to Couture, who took a few strides and then fired a shot past Greiss to even the score once again.

NOTES: The Islanders held a special pregame ceremony to honor alumni of the organization who were in town for an Islanders Alumni Weekend. Among the players on the ice were Bobby Nystrom, Clark Gillies, Bryan Trottier and Ed Westfall. ... The Islanders scratched D Scott Mayfield, F Josh Ho-Sang and F Nikulay Kulemin. ... San Jose scratched F Joel Ward, F Barclay Goodrow and D Dylan Demelo. ... The Islanders honored Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie by playing music from the band during warmups. Downie passed away on Oct. 17 after succumbing to brain cancer.

UP NEXT

Sharks: At the New York Rangers on Monday night.

Islanders: Host Arizona on Tuesday night.