Martin Jones

Main reasons for Sharks' struggles in atypically disappointing season

sharkswrongusatsi.jpg
USATSI

Main reasons for Sharks' struggles in atypically disappointing season

To say the Sharks' season thus far has been a major disappointment would be the understatement of 2020. San Jose is in the midst of its worst season in more than 15 years, and it has been a bumpy ride from the start.

The four consecutive losses to begin the season weren't the final nail in former head coach Peter DeBoer's coffin, but they did set his eventual dismissal in motion. A dismal October was counteracted by an impressive November, but a lengthy losing streak to begin December prompted Sharks general manager Doug Wilson to make a change behind the bench.

San Jose had been performing better under interim head coach Bob Boughner since the switch, but three blowout losses heading into the All-Star break have dried up any momentum the team had generated. The Sharks sit 11 points back of playoff positioning with 32 games left to play and several teams ahead of them to leapfrog. Here are the main three reasons San Jose finds itself in such unusually bad shape:

Goaltending 

The most obvious sign that a team's season has taken a wrong turn is a coaching change. The second-most obvious? A goalie switch.

Martin Jones entered the season as the Sharks' No. 1 goalie by default. His playoff experience, combined with his hefty and immovable contract, gave him the leg up on backup netminder Aaron Dell. But not all of that postseason experience has been impressive, and Jones didn't do anything to answer the question marks he entered the current season with. He lost nine of his first 11 starts, and the Sharks have only won one of his last 10. Over those two separate cold streaks, he failed to post a save percentage of .900 or better in 16 of the 21 games.

Other than stopping pucks, consistency is arguably the most important quality in a goaltender, and Jones simply wasn't providing that, nor has he for quite a while. Dell, on the other hand, has been a breath of fresh air since taking over the No. 1 spot, stealing Jones' job and running with it. While Dell's numbers aren't overly impressive since becoming the starter, they're better than Jones', and it's likely Dell's steady presence in net that has given Boughner the confidence to stick with him.

Despite the improved goaltending since the coaching change, the Sharks still rank near the bottom of the league in all of the important metrics. San Jose's cumulative save percentage (.891) ranks third-worst in the NHL, while the team's cumulative goals-against average (3.10) is tied for sixth-worst. And that's not the worst of it. The Sharks' goalies have actually performed substantially better when the team has been shorthanded than they have at even strength.

There are no obvious ways for the Sharks to improve their goaltending situation moving forward, so what you see is likely what you're going to get. If San Jose is going to make a second-half comeback, both Dell and Jones will have to be considerably better than we've seen thus far.

Power play

The Sharks are averaging nearly one fewer goal per game than a season ago, and when you combine that with some substandard goaltending, disaster ensues. Just ask DeBoer.

Some of that offensive drop-off was expected, but San Jose's fall from a power-play juggernaut to its current middling state certainly was not, at least not to this extent. Last season, the Sharks scored at the sixth-highest clip in the league with the man-advantage, scoring on 23.7 percent of their power-play opportunities. This season, that scoring rate has plummeted to 16.7 percent, seventh-worst in the NHL. And that's only half the problem.

Through the first 50 games, San Jose has had only 138 power-play opportunities (2.76 per game), the sixth-fewest in the league. Last season, the Sharks went on the power play 241 times, or 2.94 opportunities per game.

So, not only are the Sharks going on the power play less often, but they're also not being very effective with the opportunities they do get. For a team that has been shorthanded 163 times already (fourth-most in the NHL), that's just asking for trouble.

[RELATED: Sharks mailbag: Is Wilson's job as GM in serious jeopardy?]

Emergence of younger players

When Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi departed in free agency over the offseason, the Sharks lost 58 goals -- or roughly one-fifth of their 2018-19 season total. It wasn't going to be easy to replace that kind of production, and with little in the way of offseason signings in the forward group, San Jose inevitably was going to be reliant on several of its younger players taking the next step in their development to help fill the void.

Well, that hasn't really happened.

Tomas Hertl, an injury-replacement All-Star, is on pace to score 25 goals after notching 35 a year ago. Timo Meier appeared to make the leap last season when he tallied 30 goals and 66 points, but he has failed to expand upon that promise in the current campaign. Barclay Goodrow might already have set a career-high with eight goals scored and Kevin Labanc is on pace to do the same, but even that improvement hasn't been as considerable as necessary. Furthermore, none of the prospects the team had hoped would explode on the scene actually have, whether it be Antti Suomela, Sasha Chmelevski or Dylan Gambrell. 21-year-old defenseman Mario Ferraro has been the one major bright spot, which should tell you everything you need to know about the current state of the Sharks.

San Jose entered the season as one of the oldest teams in the league and knew it would need some of its younger players to step up. They haven't, and while that already has negatively impacted the franchise's present, it could continue to moving forward if some players don't emerge.

NHL rumors: Sharks plan to trade players but won't blow up roster

dillonsgoodrowkarlssonusa.jpg
USATSI

NHL rumors: Sharks plan to trade players but won't blow up roster

This season hasn't gone as planned for the Sharks, and Logan Couture's fractured ankle might be the straw that breaks them. 

At 21-22-4, the Sharks currently are seven points back of the final wild-card position but have a number of teams to leap in order to get back into playoff contention.

With their captain slated to miss expected to miss six weeks, the Sharks are ready to look to the future by selling some players in order to make a quick reboot to contend next season, The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun reported Monday.

Via LeBrun:

The crushing injury to Logan Couture only cements what was coming anyway, the realization by the Sharks that it is time to punt on this season and regroup for next year.

LeBrun believes the Sharks will look to trade the likes of Brenden Dillon and Melker Karlsson, both of whom will unrestricted free agents this summer. The plan, however, reportedly is not to blow up the core of the team, as the Sharks are hoping a few tweaks will have them back in the Stanley Cup hunt shortly. 

The core of Couture, Tomas Hertl, Joe Thornton, Evander Kane, Erik Karlsson, Timo Meier, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns is the stuff contenders are made of to be sure. The Sharks, however, will need to solve their goaltending issue and perhaps secure another top-six forward to boost the full-strength attack.

Losing Dillon and/or Melker Karlsson also would hamper the NHL's best penalty kill unit, which is something else to consider going forward.

[RELATED: Pavelski says Sharks did it right in his emotional return]

The Sharks will head into the offseason looking for a new coach and a new plan of attack, but the same belief that their foundation can win a title after a few tweaks.

Has Sharks' Aaron Dell surpassed Martin Jones as team's No. 1 goalie?

aarondellap.jpg
AP

Has Sharks' Aaron Dell surpassed Martin Jones as team's No. 1 goalie?

The Sharks were supposed to have a relatively simple goaltending tandem entering this season. Martin Jones would continue as the starter, with Aaron Dell serving as the very capable backup.  

So long as the Sharks could be predictable without the puck, everything would be fine.

But now more than halfway through the regular season, there are a lot more complications and questions than clear-cut answers. So, how exactly do we describe San Jose's current goalie situation with Jones and Dell?

Let’s first establish every possible definition, and then evaluate where the Sharks have been.

conversation: When the goalie playing less is earning more opportunities.
competition: No clear-cut No. 1, auditions are on full display.
controversy: The goalie playing less is playing better, but not playing more.
conundrum: Both goalies not playing well, with no obvious alternatives.
combination: Your No. 1 is playing like it, and your No. 2 is playing as such.

Which brings us to the Sharks' backstory. Most of last year's regular season was the combination scenario, with no questions of roles. Jones had the better campaign, and even after struggling in the first round of the playoffs, Pete DeBoer stuck with his starter and was handsomely rewarded in what remained. Martin Jones notably was solid for 17 of the 20 postseason games.

But the current season told a different story for San Jose’s tandem.  Especially during a four-win October and three-win December, we saw serious goalie conundrums and conversations emerge. Often, team defense didn’t make either netminder look sterling, but Dell certainly was a known commodity and provided the much-needed avenue to shake things up.

After DeBoer was relieved of his duties on Dec. 11, established roles went out the window, and it turned into a full-fledged goalie competition. As recently as Saturday, interim head coach Bob Boughner clarified as much: 

“I’m not anointing anybody a No. 1 at this point," he said. "I need both of them down the stretch.  And Dell right now, he’s winning games for us.”

Which brings us to the present, and that last sentence from Boughner.  Without official proclamation, maybe we’re actually back to a combination -- just one where Dell is the primary figure. He has allowed no more than three goals in each of his last nine starts and has proven an ability to make big saves, which likely instills the most confidence at this point. He’s also getting the prime assignments and opponents.

[RELATED: Sharks' late collapses continue in difficult loss vs. Caps]

Sharks fans haven’t endured a midseason changing of the guard in goal for many years now. But this journey through the calendar is different and might require extremes to compensate, whether they are declared official or not.

This, however, is not to suggest San Jose should give up on Jones. This is the first real adversity of his NHL career, and contractual obligations aside, it’s only prudent for the Sharks to see if a sidestep could help him take a big step forward.  

Getting back to a goalie controversy with Jones pushing Dell certainly wouldn’t be the worst-case scenario this spring.