Sharks’ goaltending gamble isn’t paying off

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The San Jose Sharks had a major goaltending problem during 2018-19 season.

It was clearly the biggest Achilles Heel on an otherwise great team, and it was a testament to the dominance of the team itself that they were able to win as many games as they did and reach the Western Conference Final with a level of goaltending that typically sinks other teams.

Even with the struggles of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell, the Sharks remained committed to the duo through the trade deadline and were ready to roll into the Stanley Cup Playoffs with them as the last line of defense. And while their play itself may not have been the biggest reason their playoff run came to an end against the St. Louis Blues, it still was not good enough and was going to be a huge question mark going into the 2019-20 season.

Instead of doing anything to address the position in the offseason, the Sharks gambled that Jones and Dell could bounce-back and entered this season with the same goaltending duo in place that finished near the bottom of the league a year ago.

So far, the results for the two goalies are nearly identical to what they were a year ago. And with the team around them not playing well enough to mask the flaws they are taking a huge hit in the standings with just four wins in their first 12 games.

As of Monday the Sharks have the league’s fifth-worst all situations save percentage and the second-worst 5-on-5 save percentage (only the Los Angeles Kings are worse in that category), while neither Jones or Dell has an individual mark better than .892. In seven starts Jones has topped a .900 save percentage just twice, and has been at .886 or worse in every other start. Dell has not really been any better. Say what you want about team defense, or structure, or system, or the players around them, it is awfully difficult to compete in the NHL when your goalies are giving up that many goals on a regular basis.

Sometimes you need a save, even if there is a breakdown somewhere else on the ice, and the Sharks haven’t been consistently getting them for more than a year now. Going back to the start of last season, there have been 52 goalies that have appeared in at least 30 games — Jones and Dell rank 48th and 51st respectively in save percentage during that stretch. The other goalies in the bottom-10 are Mike Smith, Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider, Cam Ward, Joonas Korpisalo, Cam Talbot, Keith Kinkaid, and Jonathan Quick. Two of those goalies (Luongo and Ward) are now retired, another (Kinkaid) is a backup, two others (Talbot and Korpisalo) are in platoon roles, while Smith, Schneider, and Quick have simply been three of the league’s worst regular starters. Not an ideal goaltending situation for a Stanley Cup contender to be in.

When it comes to Jones it is at least somewhat understandable as to why the Sharks may have been so willing to stick by him. For as tough as his 2018-19 performance was, it looked to be a pretty clear outlier in an otherwise solid career. He may have never been one of the league’s elite goalies, but he had given them at least three consecutive years of strong play with some random playoff brilliance thrown in. They also have a pretty significant financial commitment to him as he is under contract for another four years after this one. So far, though, there is little evidence to suggest such a bounce-back is on the horizon.

It’s enough to wonder if the Sharks will be as patient with their goalies as they were a year ago and what over moves could be made. Make no mistake, this is a team that is built to win the Stanley Cup right now and one that is still trying to capitalize on the window it has with its core of All-Stars. A bad start should not do anything to change that ultimate goal because there is still a championship caliber core here. And while not every team is capable of an in-season turnaround like the one the Blues experienced a year ago, the Sharks are one that could theoretically do it if their goaltending performance significantly changes for the better. But that might require some kind of move from outside the organization if the returning duo does not soon start showing some sort of progress.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Islanders take 2-0 series lead as Capitals look flat again

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The New York Islanders look to be in complete control of their First Round matchup with the Washington Capitals following their 5-2 win in Game 2 on Friday night.

The win gives the Islanders a commanding 2-0 series lead, as they have completely shut down the Capitals’ offense through the first two games of the series.

For the second game in a row the Capitals scored first — Alex Ovechkin scored his first of the playoffs on the game’s first shift — but were unable to hold on. The Islanders received goals from five different players (Nick Leddy, Matt Martin, Brock Nelson, Cal Clutterbuck, and Anders Lee) and played their frustrating brand of defense that at times rendered the Capitals’ offense completely useless.

That was pretty much the story of this game.

Other than a great showing Ovechkin — two goals, a near-miss in the third period, and six total shots on goal — the Capitals’ offense looked like it was skating in mud all night. They struggled to get to dangerous scoring areas, they could not get any kind of a consistent push in the offensive zone, and when Ovechkin was not driving things there was nobody that even looked to be a threat to score.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Not having top center Nicklas Backstrom certainly hurt, and the other team on the ice absolutely has a role in the outcome, but the Capitals have not yet been able to find their game since the 2019-20 season resumed.

They won only one of their three Round-Robin games and so far have not scored more than two goals in any of the five postseason games they have played. It has been a carryover from the way they played during the stretch run of the regular season.

What has to be especially frustrating is that this is the second game in a row they started off with the lead only to allow the Islanders to later take over. In Game 1 they held a 2-0 lead until the final minute of the second period, only to watch Braden Holtby allow a soft goal and the Islanders pour in four unanswered goals for the win.

On Friday, they got the early goal from Ovechkin and allowed the Islanders to strike for two goals to take the lead. When Ovechkin tied the game in the second period, they allowed the Islanders to reclaim the lead just 15 seconds later when Jakub Vrana turned the puck over at the Islanders’ blue line, giving Nelson a clear breakaway.

For the Islanders this entire postseason remains a complete 180 turnaround from the team we saw at the end of the regular season. That team was a sinking ship trending in the wrong direction as they had lost 11 of 13 and seven in a row. Since the restart they have gone 5-1 and have put themselves in a great position to advance.

No. 3 Washington Capitals vs. No. 6 New York Islanders (NYI lead 2-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Islanders 4, Capitals 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Islanders 5, Capitals 2
Sunday, Aug. 16: Washington at NY Islanders, 12 p.m. ET – USA Network
Tuesday, Aug. 18: Washington at NY Islanders, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Thursday, Aug. 20: NY Islanders at Washington – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Washington at NY Islanders – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: NY Islanders at Washington – TBD

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Matthew Tkachuk out for Flames in Game 3

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Some bad injury news for the Calgary Flames going into Game 3 of their First Round playoff series against the Dallas Stars.

Matthew Tkachuk will not play on Friday night after being listed as a game-time decision earlier in the day.

He will be replaced on the second line by Tobias Rieder.

Tkachuk was injured early in the third period of Thursday’s game (a 5-4 Stars win) when he was sandwiched between Jamie Oleksiak and Jamie Benn. It was the third different time during the game that Tkachuk had to exit the game and go down the tunnel. That time, he did not return to the game.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

There is no easy way to replace a player like Tkachuk. While he has the reputation for being a pest that always plays right on the line (and sometimes over it) to infuriate his opponents, he is also a legit first-line player and one of the Flames’ go-to offensive players.

He finished the regular season with 61 points (23 goals, 38 assists) in 68 games.

So far this postseason he has a goal and an assist for the Flames.

No. 3 Dallas Stars vs. No. 6 Calgary Flames (Series tied 1-1)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Flames 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Stars 5, Flames 4 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Dallas at Calgary, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Dallas at Calgary, 2 p.m. ET – CNBC
*Tuesday, Aug. 18: Calgary at Dallas – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Dallas at Calgary – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Dallas at Calgary – TBD

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Horvat’s OT goal helps Canucks stun Blues, take 2-0 series lead

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The young, upstart Vancouver Canucks have the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues on the ropes.

Thanks to their 4-3 overtime win on Friday night, the Canucks have jumped out to a stunning 2-0 series lead in their First Round matchup.

The story for the Canucks on Friday night was, once again, their young core players taking charge and carrying the offense. In this game in particular, it was captain Bo Horvat scoring two more goals, including the overtime game-winner.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Horvat opened the scoring for the second game in a row when he scored this ridiculous shorthanded goal just seven minutes into the game. He flew through the Blues’ power play and finished it off by just embarrassing a helpless looking Jaden Schwartz.

Horvat then won it overtime on a breakaway after taking an incredible bank-pass off the boards from standout rookie defenseman Quinn Hughes.

That goal came just minutes after Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom made a desperation diving save along the goal line to keep the game going.

Elias Pettersson also had another huge game for the Canucks, scoring a goal and adding an assist in the win.

This group of players is what this Canucks team is all about. It is still a team that has its share of flaws, and Friday’s game was far from perfect. They were dominated on the short chart, they allowed a two-goal lead to slip away in the final 10 minutes of regulation (Schwartz tied the game on a deflection with just six seconds to play), and they generated almost nothing at even-strength on Friday night outside of Horvat’s winner. That is not always a winning recipe. The roster still probably needs some added depth around the edges before it can really become a serious Stanley Cup contender.

But man, this Canucks team does have the most important pieces in place that can help them eventually get to the status. They do not just have franchise building blocks, they have stars. Stars that can carry a team in stretches and completely take over games. The core of Pettersson, Hughes, Horavt, Brock Boeser, and J.T. Miller is tremendous, and all of them have been shining so far in the postseason. Add in an underrated goalie in Markstrom and it’s a team that can look pretty special when all of those players are going the way they are right now.

As for the Blues, well, the 2019-20 season restart is not going as they planned. With Friday’s overtime loss they are now 0-3-2 and been outscored by an 18-11 margin.

Now they are in a position where they have to win four of the next five games against a young team that is playing with confidence and whose best players are clicking on all cylinders.

No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks (VAN leads 2-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Canucks 5, Blues 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Canucks 4, Blues 3 (OT)
Sunday, Aug. 16: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: St. Louis at Vancouver – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Flames-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup First Round

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Friday’s First Round matchup between the Flames and Stars. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Flames-Stars stream at 10:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Dallas Stars bounced back in Game 2 on Thursday night to even their series against the Calgary Flames when Jamie Oleksiak scored the game-winner with less than a minute to play in regulation.

Now, just 24 hours later, the two teams are back in action in Game 3 as each tries to get the upper hand in their First Round matchup. It was an unexpectedly high-scoring game given how much both offenses struggled during the regular season, and how bad Dallas’ offense was in the Round-Robin Phase of the return to play.

The Flames will not have Matthew Tkachuk in this game.

He was initially listed as a game-time decision after missing most of the third period on Thursday night after he was sandwiched between Stars players Oleksiak and Jamie Benn.

The Stars are turning to Anton Khudobin in goal, while the Flames are sticking with Cam Talbot on the second half of the back-to-back.

WHAT: Calgary Flames vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Friday, August 14, 10:57 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Kenny Albert, Pierre McGuire
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Flames-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

No. 3 Dallas Stars vs. No. 6 Calgary Flames

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Flames 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Calgary at Dallas, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Friday, Aug. 14: Dallas at Calgary, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Dallas at Calgary, 2 p.m. ET – CNBC
*Tuesday, Aug. 18: Calgary at Dallas – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Dallas at Calgary – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Dallas at Calgary – TBD

*if necessary

MORE STANLEY CUP COVERAGE:
Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule