Sharks

Sharks takeaways: What we learned from 1,000th win in franchise history

Sharks takeaways: What we learned from 1,000th win in franchise history

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When the Golden Knights scored the first goal of the night 94 seconds into the game, there was instant concern that the Sharks would suffer another smackdown in Sin City. 

But Team Teal didn’t let Vegas run away with this one. It was an absolute battle, but the Sharks managed to get their first regular-season victory at T-Mobile Arena, 3-2.

Here are three takeaways from Thursday’s game:

You have to like the Sharks’ response

San Jose prevented Vegas from scoring a ton of goals like they did in their last meeting with the Golden Knights. They also held off Vegas’ power play, which was important, given San Jose’s penalty kill hadn’t been quite as sharp over its last stretch of games. But, most importantly, the Sharks settled down after giving up that first goal and began pushing back against the tough Golden Knights squad. 

It didn’t look at first like the pushback was working, since the Sharks only tallied one shot on goal through more than half of the second stanza. That is, until the Kane-Hertl-Donskoi contingent kept their hot streak alive and Hertl beat Marc-Andre Fleury to tie the score at 1. That line then kept rolling to give the Sharks their first lead of the game in the third period.

Birthday Boy made the big saves

Martin Jones deserve a lot of props for his outing, as he was tested way more than Fleury on the other end of the ice. Jones buckled down after letting that first goal get by him just a little over a minute into the contest, making some very important saves that kept Vegas from adding to their lead early in the game.

Jones also had some nice support from his teammates in front of him. Thursday’s game ended up being a very defense-heavy event, with neither team giving the other a ton of room to work. On the couple of instances the Sharks did get hemmed into their own zone, they gave Jones room to make key saves.

It certainly was unfortunate for San Jose when traffic in front of him prevented him from seeing Jon Merrill’s go-ahead goal at the start in the third period. But boy did Jones make up for it when the Golden Knights got that late-game power play.

So if these teams see each other in the playoffs …

… it probably will be a great series. But it also will be a blood bath. The Golden Knights play a heavy game and bring out that same kind of play out of the Sharks. In both games against Vegas, San Jose has registered a record number of hits.

Heading into Thursday’s contest, the idea of playing a playoff series against the Golden Knights sounded incredibly unappealing to the Sharks -- especially with how bad their last game was against the new Pacific Division foe. While San Jose still has things to work on if it's going to defeat Vegas in a long series, Thursday’s game definitely was encouraging.

Why Sharks’ goaltending struggles don't bode well for NHL playoffs run

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USATSI/AP

Why Sharks’ goaltending struggles don't bode well for NHL playoffs run

The Sharks have had a hard time keeping the puck out of their own net lately. 

San Jose has lost three straight games, and allowed at least four goals in each of the last four. During that span, starting goaltender Martin Jones and backup Aaron Dell have combined for an .847 save percentage in all situations, and an .865 at full strength (per Natural Stat Trick). 

That represents a continuation of the team's season-long goaltending woes. The Sharks entered Wednesday 31st in save percentage (.891), and dead-last in 5-on-5 save percentage (.900).

As NBC Sports' Adam Gretz observed on Tuesday, that perfomance is not befitting of a Stanley Cup contender. It also puts San Jose in some not-so-elite company historically. 

Gretz found that only 16 teams have made the playoffs with bottom-five goaltending over the last quarter-century. Only two (2008-09 Detroit Red Wings, 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers) made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and every other team failed to advance past the second round. 

This context should concern the Sharks, especially in light of Dell's and Jones' solid play in net prior to the last week.  

From the end of the Sharks' bye week until March 11, Jones (.919 5-on-5 save percentage) and Dell (.929) were far better than before the NHL All-Star break. Jones got the bulk of the work in the crease, and his 5-on-5 save percentage matched that of his first three seasons in teal. 

But since the Sharks' 5-4 road win over the Winnipeg Jets on March 12, Jones (.837) and Dell (.900) have struggled. Neither received much help defensively in San Jose's loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday, but the Sharks haven't been that much worse in their own end in front of the two goalies -- at least at full strength.

In the last four games, the Sharks have allowed 5-on-5 scoring chances (22.14 SCA/60) and dangerous chances (7.7 HDCA/60) at lower rates than they have on the season, according to Natural Stat Trick. Per their data, Jones has actually faced 5-on-5 shots at a further distance (42.88 feet) in the last four games than the season as a whole (36.11 feet). 

It's possible that Jones and Dell are just experiencing an ill-timed blip on their season-long radar, which is a definite possibility considering how small of a sample size we're dealing with. That's also why their penalty-kill save percentages over that span, in fewer than 11 minutes of shorthanded action apiece, aren't all that meaningful in terms of predictive power. 

[RELATED: Sharks clinch NHL playoff spot, now chase Pacific title]

You could probably say the same about each goaltender's improvement after the All-Star break, too. The full-season sample is far more meaningful as the postseason nears, and as Gretz noted, it's far from encouraging. 

Jones has turned it on each of the last three postseasons for San Jose. He posted a higher save percentage in the playoffs than the regular season every time, including during the Sharks' run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016. 

If San Jose is going to get back there this spring, he'll have to heat up in a hurry. 

Sharks clinch spot in NHL playoffs, thanks to Avalanche win over Wild

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USATSI

Sharks clinch spot in NHL playoffs, thanks to Avalanche win over Wild

For the fourth consecutive season, Peter DeBoer has guided the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Thanks to the Colorado Avalanche's 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night, the Sharks became the second team in the Western Conference to secure a playoff spot. The Calgary Flames (45-21-7), whom the Sharks (43-22-8) trail by three points for first place in the Pacific Division, were the first. 

The Sharks lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round last year. If the playoffs started today, second-seeded San Jose would match up with third-seeded Vegas in the first round.

[RELATED: 'Concerned' Sharks can't look too far in future after loss to Vegas]

DeBoer took over as Sharks coach in 2015 after the franchise ended a 10-year run of making the playoffs. The Sharks made it to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season, but they haven't advanced past the second round since.

The franchise also seeks its first Pacific Division crown since the 2010-11 season. A division banner would be the first of DeBoer's career as an NHL head coach.