The sky isn’t falling for the San Jose Sharks, but you might say that they’re swimming through choppy waters.
After falling 3-2 to the already-eliminated Red Wings on Monday, the Sharks are now mired in a six-game losing streak in which they’ve only collected a single standings point (0-5-1). The Flames hold a six-point lead for the Pacific Division crown, and with a mere six games remaining for each team in the regular season, the Sharks can pretty much resign themselves to being the second seed in the division.
A second-third seed matchup could be quite treacherous, as the Sharks are set to take on a Vegas Golden Knights team that already was talented before the trade deadline, but sometimes looks downright scary now that they’ve added (and integrated) Mark Stone.
There’s also less-than-ideal news for Erik Karlsson. As you can see from NBC Sports California’s Marcus White, Karlsson has slowed his skating schedule from everyday to every other day as he tries to recover from a nagging groin injury. That’s not the end of the world, but it’s concerning, what with the regular season ending on April 6 and the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs beginning on April 10.*
Lots of bad stuff, right? It’s fair to wonder just how worried the Sharks should be, so let’s ponder a few details.
* – Granted, the Sharks may get an extra day off or two if their actual series doesn’t begin on April 10. We will see.
There’s no sense going too deep into this situation, as we really have no idea how far off Karlsson might be. The good news is that he’s not being forced to risk aggravating that injury further in actual game action. Still, it would stink for the Sharks to not have him up-and-running once the games really start to matter. If he can’t get any games in before the regular season ends, rust could be a factor.
On the bright side, we’ve seen Karlsson play at a near-playoff-MVP level (albeit for three rounds, not four) during Ottawa’s big 2017 run despite playing hurt, so there’s a chance Karlsson could make a big impact even if he’s not at full-strength.
Still hogging the puck
The Sharks have been a pretty dominant possession team during their six-game losing streak. Via Natural Stat Trick, San Jose has been in the top five in various even-strength categories (including controlling high-danger chances) since this slump.
Wait for it: they’ve mainly been very unlucky.
Their 5.48 even-strength shooting percentage ranks fourth-worst and their 88.37 saving percentage comes in second-worst among NHL teams during this six-game losing streak.
To some extent, the luck should work itself out. That’s particularly true with shooting. However …
Big problems in net
Some great Sharks teams have been submarined by terrible goaltending, or even just middling goaltending, over the years. You can’t totally blame experienced Sharks fans if they’re thinking “Oh no, not again” as they watch Aaron Dell and particularly Martin Jones struggle.
And this isn’t just a six-game struggle.
As you can see from Sean Tierney’s viz using Evolving Hockey’s data, Jones falls in a negative Goals Saved Against Expectation range, surrounded by goalies who are either on failing teams or who’ve gone from starter/platoon-types to backups. If that’s too dense for you, merely realize that both Dell and Jones have save percentages below 90 this season, which is the sort of work that can derail an otherwise-dominant team.
Now, it’s true that Jones has enjoyed some great playoff success so far in his career, sporting a splendid .926 save percentage over 42 games (40 of which have come in San Jose). Perhaps he can “flip the switch,” or maybe a turnaround would provide the latest evidence that goalies are very, very difficult to predict.
Still, the Sharks’ goaltending situation doesn’t look very promising at the moment, and opponents like the Golden Knights could be especially punishing toward such weaknesses.
For all we know, the Sharks could heat up again – they were on fire mere weeks ago – but at the moment, there are some red flags for a team dreaming of a deep run.