Sharks

Shark Week: Where San Jose's 2018-19 team ranks in franchise history

Shark Week: Where San Jose's 2018-19 team ranks in franchise history

Editor's note: In honor of Shark Week, NBC Sports California will look back at the five best teams from Sharks franchise history. Numerous factors have been taken into consideration, including overall team success, roster makeup, historical significance and more. We continue with the 2018-19 Sharks.

The Sharks' most recent NHL season began with a bang before any games were played. They traded for superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson on the eve of training camp, adding a two-time Norris Trophy winner to a blue line that already had 2016-17 Norris winner Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic playing leading roles. 

Karlsson needed time to adjust, and a series of groin injuries sapped his effectiveness down the stretch in his first season in teal. The Sharks didn't click for the entirety of the season, but the stretches in which they did gave a glimpse of the team's elite potential.

For instance, San Jose rattled off a 16-4-2 record from Dec. 2, 2018, until Jan. 16, 2019 -- the last game Karlsson played before missing 27 of the team's final 33 games -- and dominated the record-setting Tampa Bay Lightning in a 5-2 win right in the middle of that stretch. 

Even though Karlsson and others weren't healthy, the Sharks' season ended just two wins shy of the franchise's second-ever Stanley Cup Final appearance. It marked the beginning of a new era, since Karlsson ultimately re-signed on an eight-year contract before free agency began, and the end of another, since it marked captain Joe Pavelski's final season with the team. 

Here's a look back at the 2018-19 Sharks, the third-best team in franchise history.

Why they're the best

If there was a deeper team on offense in Sharks history than last season’s squad, you'd have a hard time proving it. San Jose set a franchise record in goals (289), with nine players scoring at least 15. That also set a franchise record, and tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the NHL-lead in 2018-19.

The Sharks also were one of the best 5-on-5 puck-possession teams, finishing no worse than fifth in shot-attempt percentage (first), unblocked shot-attempt percentage (second), shots-for percentage (second), expected goals-for percentage (second), scoring-chance percentage (second) and high-danger chance percentage (fifth). Icing one of Burns -- who finished as a Norris Trophy finalist -- and Karlsson on most shifts helped, but so did the team's forward depth. 

San Jose was deep down the middle with Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Joe Thornton centering their own lines, and perhaps deeper on the wing with Pavelski, Timo Meier, Evander Kane, Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen all hitting the aforementioned 15-goal threshold. Joonas Donskoi (14) wasn't far behind, and trade-deadline acquisition Gustav Nyquist gave the team even more skill. 

Why they're not

At their best, the Sharks were as good as any team in the league last season. But San Jose couldn't harness that for the entirety of the season, and it struggled to overcome poor performances in net and injuries to Karlsson and defenseman Radim Simek during the regular season. 

Although the Sharks scored more goals than every team but the Lightning and Calgary Flames, they allowed the 11th-most. Goaltenders Martin Jones (.896 save percentage) and Aaron Dell (.886) had the worst seasons of their professional careers, and no team had a worse overall save percentage during the regular season than the Sharks (.889).

Jones just about singlehandedly kept the Sharks' playoff hopes alive with a stellar performance in Game 6 of San Jose's Stanley Cup playoff first-round series with the Vegas Golden Knights, but he book-ended a .916 in seven second-round games against the Colorado Avalanche with a .904 against in seven against Vegas and an .869 in six against the eventual-Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. 

Still, the Sharks were good enough to overcome Jones and Dell's struggles during the regular season -- up to a point. San Jose won six in a row after Karlsson aggravated his groin injury in late February, but proceeded to lose nine of its final 12 games after Simek's rookie season ended when he tore his ACL in mid-March.

Up one point in the race for the Western Conference's top seed at the time of Simek's injury, the Sharks finished the regular season six points shy of the Flames. San Jose's long list of playoff injuries didn't help matters, either, and another Sharks season ended without a Stanley Cup.

[RELATED: Projecting Sharks' protected list for 2021 expansion draft]

Verdict

The 2018-19 Sharks surely would top a list of the most talented teams in franchise history, even with the goaltenders' struggles and Karlsson's injury limiting him. That San Jose advanced further than it had in all but two seasons in franchise history is a testament to the roster Doug Wilson put together, as well as the team's resilience (and good fortune), but the Sharks' 27th season showed that talent can only overcome so much. 

As a result, a third-place ranking feels wholly appropriate. Back-to-back seven-game series against the Knights and Avalanche provided plenty of iconic playoff moments, and Sharks fans won't forget either Game 7 any time soon. Yet "what if" likely will be asked in the same breath.

The same question can be asked about every team that preceded them, of course, but it won't carry the same weight. 

Best teams in Sharks history

No. 5: 2001-02 
No. 4: 2005-06

Sharks have Martin Jones to thank for keeping winning streak alive

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USATSI

Sharks have Martin Jones to thank for keeping winning streak alive

SAN JOSE -- The SAP Center crowd was on the edge of its seats during overtime play as Brent Burns went to the box for tripping and the Sharks went on the penalty kill. 

But goaltender Martin Jones was there to keep the game moving right along, making stop after stop against the Red Wings and giving San Jose the boost it needed to get to the shootout and tally its sixth straight victory.

On a night when the Sharks weren't at their best, Jones was -- as head coach Peter DeBoer aptly put it -- San Jose's "best player." And this certainly wasn't the first time this month that he came up with some big saves at a very big moment.

Without Jones playing at the level he has been over the last few contests, the Sharks might not finally be climbing out of their early-season hole.

"When he can steal games like that, it's huge for us," Kevin Labanc said. "He had an unbelievable game today and that's why he's the goalie that he is. We have a lot of faith in him and he's winning us games right now."

Jones' work on the penalty kill was just one highlight of his performance from Saturday night. He was steady as Detroit's offense picked up steam and used its speed to wedge into San Jose's zone. Jones was quick to save some of the Red Wings' best shots, most notably a Brandon Perlini attempt that he batted out of the crease with his outstretched right leg. He then topped it off by completely stymying Detroit's top scorers in the shootout.

"A big reason we got the two points was him tonight," captain Logan Couture said of Jones. "He made massive saves. You think of that penalty kill, that save in the second there which was huge, big saves in the third that he made. He's playing great. And then the shootout -- he's been unbelievable in the shootout so far."

Considering the rough start Jones had this season, one wonders if he has been doing something different recently in his preparation for games. But when asked postgame why he's been more successful lately, the netminder -- who is typically a pretty cool customer -- couldn't pinpoint where his current confidence is coming from.

"I have to play the game," Jones said. "I can't rely on making a big save early, sometimes that's just the way the game unfolds. I get confidence from practicing hard and making sure I'm focused on the details."

Granted, Jones' numbers on the season as a whole still aren't great. He's 8-7-1 through 16 starts and currently possesses an .889 save percentage. Even over the course fo San Jose's current six-game winning streak, he's sitting on an .891 save percentage. While the team in front of Jones obviously is scoring enough goals to win games and piggyback on his big saves, it still needs to give him a little more help.

"I still think we can be tighter and better defensively," Couture critiqued. "Too many grade-As in our slot and breakaways. So we'll tighten up on that."

[RELATED: What we learned as Sharks beat Red Wings in shootout]

But the Sharks aren't going to scoff at another win, especially if it comes at the hands of a big performance from their goalie.

"When you're putting together a winning streak, you're going to have to win all kinds of different ways," DeBoer said. "You're going to put some really solid games together, and then you're going to win some like this where you've got a couple of guys with big performances."

In this case, Jones' performance is what kept the winning streak alive.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-3 shootout win over Red Wings

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AP

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-3 shootout win over Red Wings

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- Another night, another Sharks’ win.

San Jose certainly didn’t make things easy on itself against the Red Wings at SAP Center on Saturday night, and although the Sharks jumped out to an early lead, Detroit bounced back from two deficits and forced the contest into overtime. Kevin Labanc, though, played the hero with the lone marker in the shootout to clinch a 4-3 victory and extend Team Teal's winning streak to six games.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday's exciting win:

Jones comes up big

Martin Jones deserves credit for his solid play throughout the month of November, and San Jose's goaltender had another good start against Detroit. The Red Wings picked up speed over the course of the game and outshot the Sharks, but Jones was a steady presence throughout. Taro Hirose's second-period goal that tied the game 2-2 wasn't his fault and, frankly, he didn’t get much help from the defense when Andreas Athanasiou tied it up 3-3 late in the third period either.

One of Jones' best saves of the night actually came just before that Hirose goal when he made a huge kick save on Brandon Perlini that narrowly missed dribbling into the net. Although, to be fair, his blocker saves when San Jose went on the penalty kill in overtime were equally impressive.

If Jones continues making big saves like that on a nightly basis, the Sharks' fortunes will continue to turn for the better. 

Still in search of that four-line game 

The Sharks have been an improved even-strength team since the start of the month, but against the Red Wings, the forward attack didn't look as deep as it has on other nights. Labanc and Logan Couture did their fair share of the heavy lifting on the top line, as evidenced by Labanc's first-period goal and Couture's three assists on the evening. 

But other than that, San Jose's lines didn't generate much against a Red Wings team that doesn't have much forward depth itself. With two big divisional games coming up next week against the Oilers and the Golden Knights, the Sharks need more players to start producing on a regular basis. There's no way around it.

[RELATED: Thornton discusses importance of fitness in HEADSTRONG]

On a positive note ...

Keep the big hits coming 

One of San Jose's top concerns heading into Saturday's game was being able to contain Detroit's speed. When the Wings did manage to break into the Sharks' defensive zone, San Jose did a good job of imposing its physicality and breaking up plays. Through the first two periods, the Sharks out-hit the Red Wings 10-5.

While San Jose still needs to work on taking more of the center of the ice away from the opposition, that's the kind of heavy game the Sharks must play regardless of how fast or physical the opponent is. If they can build off that performance, the wins will keep on coming.