Sharks

What's behind the Sharks' defensive turnaround?

sharks-defense-jones.jpg
USATSI

What's behind the Sharks' defensive turnaround?

Hours before a Super Bowl featuring very little in the way of defense, the Sharks turned in one of their best defensive efforts of the season.

The 26 total shots allowed against the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday were tied for the seventh-fewest of San Jose's season, and it capped off a streak of three consecutive games allowing just one five-on-five goal. It's surely no surprise the Sharks have picked up points in all three of those games, and won the last two. 

They surely welcome the development. We've spilled plenty of pixels on how bad the Sharks have been defensiely since the start of December, and the last three games represent a bit of a turnaround. 

Over the last three games, they've allowed a lower rate of five-on-five shot attempts (4.88 fewer per 60 minutes), shots (2.19 fewer), and scoring chances (1.78 fewer) than they did in the previous 26 (since Dec. 1), according to Natural Stat Trick. That's across-the-board improvement, but is not necessarily sizeable enough to totally explain their recent stinginess. 

It helps, then, that the Sharks have not only given up fewer looks at the net, their goaltenders have stopped a far greater share of those looks. 

In the prior 26 games, Martin Jones and Aaron Dell collectively posted a .907 five-on-five save percentage. In the last three, that's up to .961. 

The duo was especially good when challenged most. They also combined for a .972 save percentage on five-on-five scoring chances, and a .963 save percentage on five-on-five high-danger scoring chances against Detroit, Columbus, and Carolina. From Dec.1 until Tuesday, Jones and Dell combined for a .918 save percentage on scoring chances, and an .849 save percentage on high-danger chances. 

While the Sharks netminders have undoubtedly benefited from facing fewer shots and dangerous chances, it would be far too simple to say the goaltending is better solely because of the defense, or vice versa. The improvements are likely symbiotic, and sustaining one another.

Three games isn't a big enough sample to say San Jose truly returned to its early-season defensive form. But, with five of the next six games against divisional opponents, and all but three of the remaining 31 against the Western Conference, the Sharks are improving defensively and in net at the right time. 

If they can sustain it, their hold on a playoff spot won't feel nearly as tenuous. 

Reports: John Tavares will meet with Sharks, four other teams

tavaresap.jpg
AP

Reports: John Tavares will meet with Sharks, four other teams

New York Islanders captain John Tavares isn't officially a free agent yet, but he will listen to what a handful of teams have to say, Tavares' agent Pat Brisson told reporters in Dallas. That list reportedly includes the Sharks. 

San Jose will reportedly meet with Tavares in Los Angeles on Monday, according to multiple reports. The Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs are also "assured of meetings," according to The Athletic's Arthur Staple, while the Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights may also meet with the 27-year-old. But, meetings may be as far as any of those teams get, Staple noted. 

The Islanders' No. 1 pick in 2009, Tavares would be the best free agent available should he opt to leave New York, and arguably the best forward to hit unrestricted free agency in years. Since entering the league, Tavares ranks fifth in goals (272), and ninth in points (621), higher than any current Shark in either category. He's won gold with Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, and made the All-Star Game five times, including in each of the last four seasons. 

This week, the Sharks positioned themselves to acquire Tavares, or another player via trade or free agency by clearing about $7 million in salary cap space. San Jose traded winger Mikkel Boedker ($4 million salary cap hit) to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, and placed veteran defenseman Paul Martin on unconditional waivers with the intention of buying out his contract on Friday. Martin cleared waivers on Saturday, freeing about $2.83 million this season, according to CapFriendly, or around $3.2 million, which the Sharks cited to reporters at the draft on Friday.

Either way, that gives San Jose right around $19 million in salary cap space this summer. Dylan DeMelo, Tomas Hertl, and Chris Tierney remain unsigned as restricted free agents, while pending unrestricted free agent Joe Thornton has expressed a desire to return to the Sharks. 

San Jose reportedly met with a former No. 1 pick ahead of free agency two summers ago, only to see him return to his club. The Sharks were believed to be one of four teams to meet with Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos in 2016, according to SportsNet's Elliotte Friedman.

Sharks Day 2 2018 NHL Draft Tracker

sharksday2ap.jpg
AP

Sharks Day 2 2018 NHL Draft Tracker

SHARKS DRAFT PICKS
First round (No. 21 overall): D Ryan Merkley, Guelph Storm (OHL)
Third round (No. 87 overall): C Linus Karlsson, Karlskrona HK / Karlskrona Allsvenskan (SHL/SuperElit)‚Äč

Fourth round (No. 102 overall): C Jasper Weatherby, Wentachee Wild (BCHL)
Sixth round (No. 176 overall): G Zachary Emond, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
Sixth round (No. 182 overall): LW John Leonard, University of Massachusetts-Amherst (NCAA)

* * *

After the Sharks made one of the biggest splashes of the first round on Friday, San Jose entered the second day of the 2018 NHL Draft with six picks, two each in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds. 

Here all of the Sharks' pick from Saturday.

LINUS KARLSSON
Position: Center
2017-18 Team: Karlskrona HK / Karlskrona Allsvenskan (U-20)
Height: 6-1
Weight: 179 lbs
Age: 18
Shoots: Right
Selection: Third round (No. 87 overall; Acquired from Arizona in exchange for No. 114 and No. 145 picks)
Scouting report: The Sharks traded a pair of picks, a fourth rounder and a fifth rounder, to select the second-leading scorer from Sweden's under-20 league last season. Karlsson tied for the league-lead in goals (27), and even played 13 games with Karlskrona's pro team as an 18-year-old. He was one of the biggest risers in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings, finishing the season as the service's No. 39 European skater, after being unranked at midseason. 

JASPER WEATHERBY
Position:
Center
2017-18 Team: Wentachee Wild (BCHL)
Height: 6-4
Weight: 216 lbs
Age: 20
Shoots: Left
Scouting report: Weatherby led the BCHL with 74 points (37 goals, 37 assists) in the regular season, and in postseason scoring with another 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) in just 20 playoff games. He was a man amongst boys in more ways than one, as he's the oldest draft-eligible BCHL player and the biggest, according to EliteProspects. He's committed to play at the University of North Dakota this fall.

ZACHARY EMOND
Position: Goalie
2017-18 Team: Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
Height: 6-3
Weight: 165 lbs
Age: 18
Catches: Left
Scouting report: The 18th-ranked North American goaltender by Central Scouting, Emond posted an .897 save percentage in 24 games with Rouyn-Noranda in his first full season in the QMJHL. Emond backed up Samuel Harvey last season, but could become the primary starter this season if Harvey doesn't return as an overage player. Harvey, interestingly enough, was ranked one spot ahead of Emond in Central Scouting's final ranking. 

JOHN LEONARD
Position:
Left Wing
2017-18 Team: University of Massachusetts-Amherst (NCAA)
Height: 5-11
Weight: 185 lbs
Age: 19
Shoots: Left
Scouting report: Leonard led the Minutemen in scoring as a freshman this past season (28 points). Among under-20 players in the NCAA, Leonard was ninth in points per game (0.85), and tied-for-sixth in goals (13) without shooting at an unsustainable clip (11.5 percent shooting percentage). He's got some big skates to fill, at least as far as drafted Minutemen freshmen go.