Penalty kill's surprising turnaround vital to Sharks' early-season success

Penalty kill's surprising turnaround vital to Sharks' early-season success

Joel Ward’s game-tying goal late in the third period of the Sharks’ shootout win over the Ducks on Saturday night was a second shy of counting as San Jose’s first shorthanded goal of the season.

The Sharks pressured the Ducks below their own goal line, forcing Antoine Vermette to rim it around the boards. Barclay Goodrow took advantage of a fortuitous bounce, a bad pinch, and another good bounce to get the puck to Ward and give San Jose a two-on-one rush.

A shorthanded goal would have been a fitting reward for the Sharks’ revamped penalty kill, which was the NHL’s second-best entering Sunday.

San Jose has killed off a remarkable 89.6 percent of their shorthanded opportunities, and has only allowed two power play goals in their last 12 games.

It’s a remarkable turnaround from last season, when the Sharks over-performed with a man in the penalty box. They ranked 18th in penalty kill percentage (80.7 percent), but were one of the league’s worst at limiting scoring chances.

Only nine teams allowed scoring chances on the penalty kill at a higher rate than the Sharks last season, according to Natural Stat Trick. This season, San Jose is allowing almost eight fewer scoring chances per hour of penalty kill time than last year (49.63 vs 57.17, via Natural Stat Trick).

That’s the seventh-lowest rate in the league, and a big reason why goaltender Martin Jones has posted a career-high shorthanded save percentage. He’s stood tall when called upon, but the Sharks aren’t asking nearly as much of him as they did last season.

San Jose’s penalty kill has not only helped its goaltender, but the rest of the team as well. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Sharks boast one of the league’s least-potent offenses, sitting 23rd in goals per game. Simply put, the penalty kill’s kept them in games.

The same could not be said of the penalty kill down the stretch last season. San Jose killed off 9 of their 34 shorthanded opportunities, or 73.53 percent, in the final 13 games of 2016-17, while the offense mired in an extended slump.

It’s not a perfect comparison, as they’ve scored more in this season’s first 13 games (35) than last season’s final 13 (27). Plus, the Sharks have been a much better possession team in that calamitous stretch.

But, the penalty kill’s turnaround has still offset a somewhat inert offensive start. It’s not only been a pleasant surprise for the Sharks, but one of the most important.

Sharks avoid arbitration, re-sign Chris Tierney to two-year deal


Sharks avoid arbitration, re-sign Chris Tierney to two-year deal

Just two days before one was scheduled, the Sharks avoided an arbitration hearing with center Chris Tierney, and re-signed the restricted free agent to a two-year deal on Wednesday, the team announced. The deal is reportedly worth just shy of $2.94 million annually, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman

"Chris had his best season as a professional last year and stepped up his level of play in multiple areas," San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said in a statement. "We've always known he was a responsible, defensive-minded player, but he took his offensive game to the next tier and showed that he can be a productive player in all three zones. We look forward to watching him continue his evolution in 2018-19." 

Last season, the 24-year-old Tierney set career-highs in goals (17), assists (23), points (40), shots on goal (118), and ice time (16:00). Tierney also generated expected goals at the highest rate of his career (0.62 per hour), according to Corsica Hockey. 

A 2012 second-round pick, Tierney entered last season in an uncertain place. He signed his one-year, $735,000 qualifying offer last summer, and head coach Peter DeBoer challenged him to improve. 

“I came into the year wanting to prove a point. I believe in myself. I think I’m a good hockey player,” Tierney told the San Jose Mercury News in December. “I wanted to come in and show people that I could play an offensive role on the team.”  

DeBoer used Tierney slightly differently this season, as the forward started a career-high percentage of five-on-five shifts in the offensive zone (31.12 percent) and a career-low percentage of defensive zone starts (29.68 percent), per Corsica Hockey. Tierney responded in kind with his aforementioned career-best offensive numbers, and seized the third-line center role after versatile forward Tomas Hertl stayed on the wing.  

With Tierney back in the fold, the Sharks now have just under $4.4 million in salary cap space, according to CapFriendly. That’s for a roster carrying 14 forwards, seven defenseman, and two goaltenders, and San Jose’s actual cap space may change depending on the outcome of various positional battles in training camp. 

This summer, Tierney became the fourth Sharks player since 2008 to file for arbitration. In every case, including with Tierney on Wednesday, a settlement was reached prior to a hearing. 

The Sharks also signed a pair of prospects to entry-level contracts on Wednesday. Defenseman Ryan Merkley, San Jose’s first-round pick this June, and 21-year-old forward Alexander True, who scored 28 points in 68 games with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda last season, both inked deals with the organization.

Martin Jones' new goalie mask will have Sharks fans seeing double


Martin Jones' new goalie mask will have Sharks fans seeing double

Sharks goaltender Martin Jones won't just enter the season with a different paycheck, the result of entering the first year of a five-year, $34.5 million contract extension that he signed last July. He'll also have a new mask.

Toronto-based artist Steve Nash unveiled a look at Jones' mask design for the upcoming season Monday morning on Twitter. The design again features San Jose's secondary logo but with some subtle differences.

Eagle-eyed mask afficionados will notice a couple of tweaks. First, there now are two sharks on the side, compared to only one last season. Those sharks boast orange eyes seen on the back of his mask last season

For comparison, here's a look at Jones' mask from last year.

The 28-year-old netminder is entering his fourth season in San Jose's crease. Jones posted a .915 save percentage in 60 regular-season starts and followed that with a .928 in 10 postseason starts as the Sharks advanced to the second round. 

We'll get our best look at Jones' new mask in action when training camp opens in mid-September, and, assuming he plays, in a game as soon as the Sept. 18 preseason opener against the Ducks.