Cam Talbot

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.

Flames vs. Jets: 2019 Heritage Classic by the numbers

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the 2019 Heritage Classic between the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET from Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

2 – Number of regular-season games the original Jets played in Saskatoon during the 1992-93 NHL season. Winnipeg won both games, beating Hartford 8-7 and Ottawa 8-2.

3 – Victories by road teams in the four previous Heritage Classics. The Flames are the only home team to win after beating the Canadiens 4-0 at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium in 2011. 

5 – Jets vs. Flames will be the fifth Heritage Classic game and first since the Jets played the Oilers in 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg.

10 – Number of goals scored in the first regular-season NHL game between Winnipeg and Calgary on Nov. 5, 1980, a 5-5 tie.

14 – Regina is the 14th Canadian city to host a regular-season NHL game (indoors or outdoors).

15 – Jets and Flames who have played in at least one NHL outdoor game. Cam Talbot has been a part of four outdoor games, serving as a backup in three of them.

[COVERAGE OF FLAMES-JETS BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

16 – Number of NHL outdoor games that have taken place at football stadiums. Baseball stadiums have hosted 10 and one game has been played in a soccer stadium.

27 – Number of outdoor games in NHL history to date: 11 Winter Classics, 10 Stadium Series, four Heritage Classics, one Centennial Classic and one NHL100 Classic.

Editor’s note: Need tickets for the Heritage Classic? Click here.

105 – Number of meetings between the original Jets and Flames in the regular season from 1980-81 to 1995-96. Calgary had the edge in the series with a record of 51-38-16.

350 – Gallons of paint used to make the ice at Mosaic Stadium white.

444 – Total litres of Heinz ketchup, mustard and relish that will be consumed by attendees on game day at Mosaic Stadium, per the NHL.

516 – Number of Saskatchewan-born players in NHL history. They’ve combined to win 171 Stanley Cups.

560 – Total number of regular-season games played by Hockey Hall of Famer Phil Housley with both the Flames and the original Jets. In two stints in Calgary, Housley suited up 328 times, and played 232 games with Winnipeg.

20,000 – Gallons of water needed to create a two-inch ice surface at Mosaic Stadium.

NBC Sports presents a special Saturday night NHL doubleheader on NBCSN this week, highlighted by a rematch of last year’s Stanley Cup Final, when Conn Smythe Trophy winner Ryan O’Reilly and the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues visit David Pastrnak and the Boston Bruins at 7 p.m. ET (livestream). Coverage heads outdoors to Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan, at 10 p.m. ET, when Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets face Johnny Gaudreau and the Calgary Flames in the 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic.

Kathryn Tappen will anchor Saturday’s doubleheader coverage with Keith Jones and Anson Carter.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Zucker walks the walk for Wild; Goalies come up big

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Three Stars

1. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

Mike Smith and the Oilers goaltending received (well-earned) attention with this post, but Hellebuyck Jets won the duel of shutouts via a shootout.

Hellebuyck collected 28 saves, including 10 combined from Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and James Neal. Hellebuyck also stopped both of the attempts he faced during the shootout, turning aside McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

After Smith made a save after a strong move by Mark Scheifele, Hellebuyck didn’t blink against McDavid during this blistering overtime exchange:

2. Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild

Quite a week for a Wild forward who also had quite the offseason, where he was almost-traded.

Zucker included Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau’s name while pointing to how everyone on the team could get better following a loss. With controversy swirling over that comment, Zucker apologized to Boudreau.

One could picture Boudreau saying “Just make it up to me on the ice,” and Zucker did just that on Sunday. The strong two-way player scored the game’s opening goal on the power play, and sent a fantastic pass to Zach Parise for the game-winner.

He also had another attempt that could have easily counted as a second goal, but Keith Kinkaid made the save that will be featured later in this post …

3. Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks

Sunday was a night of rest for NHL offenses, as few players really lit up the scoreboard.

You can boil some of that down to strong netminding. Above, you have Hellebuyck, who was nearly met by Smith in that game. Braden Holtby made 41 saves for a win, and Cam Talbot had a nice night for Calgary, stopping 29 of 30 shots.

Markstrom gets the slight edge over those goalies – plus his opponent Henrik Lundqvist, who made 40 saves, but allowed three goals – by generating 38 saves while allowing two goals in Vancouver’s tight win against the Rangers. Read this for more about the start for Markstrom and Thatcher Demko.

Highlight of the Night

Here’s that Kinkaid stop on Zucker:

Factoids

  • Every game was either decided by one goal, or one goal plus an empty-netter. NHL PR notes that about 53 percent (68 of 128) games this season have been that close.
  • The Jets note that Paul Maurice became the seventh coach in NHL history to reach 700 wins. In case you’re wondering, Maurice got there in 1,539 games, which gets complicated thanks to the way the NHL handled ties and shootouts over the years. Dude’s been able to keep jobs over the years to a remarkable degree, whichever way you slice it.
  • John Carlson really slacked on Sunday, only getting an assist. He’s at 18 points, becoming one of only three defensemen to manage that many through 10 games, joining Paul Coffey (20[!] in 1988-89) and Bobby Orr (who did it twice), according to NHL PR. Carlson’s 18 points stands alone as the top mark in the NHL so far, as Connor McDavid remained parked at 17.
  • NHL PR points out that the Wild are 7-0-0 in their last seven home games against the Canadiens, and Montreal hasn’t even earned a pity point during that stretch, going 0-7-0.

Scores

VAN 3 – NYR 2
MIN 4 – MTL 3
WSH 5 – CHI 3
WPG 1 – EDM 0 (SO)
CGY 2 – ANA 1

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Which 2019 NHL playoff teams are in danger of missing this season?

It is a near certainty that one of the NHL’s 16 Stanley Cup playoff teams from 2018-19 is going to miss the playoffs this season. It happens every year, and it would be completely unheard of if it did not happen again.

It is just a matter of which team (or teams) ends up missing.

Now, not every team is in danger as there are a handful at the top that would seem to be virtual locks: We will put the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals, and Nashville Predators in that group. Is there a team in there that you could see missing the playoffs? Even a significant injury to one or two players doesn’t seem to be enough to keep one out.

That leaves us with nine teams whose fanbases might have reason to be a little worried.

These are those teams.

A lot of things would have to go wrong (least likely to miss)

Colorado Avalanche. I almost put them among the locks because I am definitely buying their hype and think big things are ahead for them in the very near future. Their ceiling this year? Possible Stanley Cup team. But they have just enough questions (strong division around them, goaltending, relying heavily on a young defense) to put just a touch of doubt in there. Not a lot of doubt, but just enough.

Carolina Hurricanes. Like the Avalanche, I also wanted to put them in the “playoff lock” category but there are two things that could potentially hold them back. The first is the goaltending falls flat, which is something that has happened to this team on more than one occasion over the past decade. The second is they are in an absolutely loaded division where pretty much everybody made some kind of major change this summer. Not all of these teams can make the playoffs, and while I don’t think the Hurricanes are going to be one of the teams on the outside, the goaltending is enough of a question that the possibility is at least lurking.

Vegas Golden Knights. The top of the Golden Knights’ roster is great, and should be even better this season with a full year of Mark Stone on their top-line. It also took a Game 7 meltdown for the ages to keep them from advancing to Round 2. Their flaws are that the roster gets a little thin toward the bottom and I wonder how long they keep can giving a 35-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury such a heavy workload before he starts to break down. If everything goes right they could win the West for the second time in three years, but if something happens to Fleury or he starts to show some cracks things could unravel a bit.

It could happen (missing is possible, but not likely)

Pittsburgh Penguins. They had to fight down the stretch to make the playoffs a year ago, failed to win a single game once they got there, and made some pretty significant changes this summer. It remains to be seen whether or not they made the right changes, or if they are any better. The good news for them is they still have a few superstars and a No. 1 goalie.

Calgary Flames. They were the No. 1 team in the Western Conference going into the 2019 playoffs and had the second best record in the entire league, so going from that to outside of the playoffs would be a pretty big swing. They probably will not be that good again and a regression should be expected. But missing the playoffs? How could that possibly happen. Well, how confident are you in Cam Talbot and David Rittich in goal? That is how it could — emphasis on could — happen.

[MORE: NHL Power Rankings: First look at 2019-20 season]

Most likely candidates

Dallas Stars. This sort of feels like a long shot because they have great talent at the top and added another top-line player this summer in Joe Pavelski. But they made the playoffs with only 93 points a year ago (most years that is not good enough) and still have some depth issues at forward. They are in a really tough division, the depth is lacking, and they relied heavily on Ben Bishop‘s .934 save percentage.

Winnipeg Jets. Two years ago this team was in the NHL’s final four and looking like an emerging power in the Western Conference. Last year they never looked quite right and took a big step backwards. This summer they watched as their defense was decimated one piece at a time. If Dustin Byfuglien stays away they will barely be able to put together an NHL caliber blue line. Connor Hellebuyck is a solid goalie, but he may not be good enough to cover for that group.

Columbus Blue Jackets. This is the team everyone expects to miss after losing Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Sergei Bobrovsky, and admittedly, it does look grim. But they won 50 games the year before Panarin arrived, Duchene only played a handful of games in Columbus, and they still have some great young core players coming back. The key is the goalies. Replacing Bobrovsky won’t be easy, and that will be the hurdle that could prove to be too tall, especially in that division.

New York Islanders. Islanders fans are no doubt tired of hearing about how their team is likely to regress this season, and honestly, I don’t blame them. The 2018-19 season was an incredible story and unexpected success that reignited a hurting fanbase. But there are real flaws with this team, especially offensively. Like the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets they have to deal with a loaded division, and they were the only team that did not do anything significant except to replace Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner with Semyon Varlamov. That is a concern.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV 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.

NHL Power Rankings: First look at 2019-20 season

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We kick off our 2019-20 PHT Power Rankings with a look at where every team in the league standings as the season begins this week.

What are expecting?

Do not give up on the Lightning, believe in the Avalanche, and be very, very, very worried about the defense in Winnipeg.

Where does your team stand as the season begins?

To the rankings!

1. Tampa Bay Lightning. They embarrassed themselves in the playoffs and this core has a record of falling short when the chips are on the table. But the same things were said about the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues for years. They got over the hump. This team can, too. Still the best roster in the league on paper.

2. St. Louis Blues. Adding Justin Faulk to a Stanley Cup winning team is a nice way to end the offseason. Big question is if Jordan Binnington can come close to matching his 2018-19 performance over a full season.

3. Boston Bruins. This team is still loaded. David Pastrnak should be considered a real sleeper to win the goal-scoring crown.

4. Washington Capitals. Feels like the Capitals are kind of sneaking under the radar as a championship contender this season. The core is still in place and they are still great.

5. Colorado Avalanche. Buying all in on the hype. They needed to address their forward depth and they did that and more with Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, and Andre Burakovsky joining the roster. Their young defense is almost as exciting as their forwards.

6. San Jose Sharks. Even after losing Joe Pavelski and Donskoi they still have a great group of forwards and the best defense in the league. There is also no way that Martin Jones can be as bad as he was a year ago. Right? Right?!

7. Toronto Maple Leafs. It is a broken record at this point, but with all of that talent they can no longer tolerate third place finishes and Round 1 exits. At some point, Mike Babcock and Co. have to do something.

8. Vegas Golden Knights. A full year of Mark Stone, one of the league’s best all-around players, is going to be a game-changer.

9. Carolina Hurricanes. Their playoff run was no fluke. All of the focus is on the defense, but their forwards are excellent as well. Andrei Svechnikov looks like he is on the verge of a breakout season.

10. Calgary Flames. This feels low for the team that finished with the top record in the West a year ago, but a lot of things went right for them and I just don’t know how much I trust a full season of Cam Talbot and David Rittich in net.

[PHT PREDICTIONS: EAST / WEST / STANLEY CUP]

11. Nashville Predators. Can Matt Duchene help fix what was a truly depressing power play unit? That unit was the biggest thing holding this team back.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins. A true wild card team that seems like it could be a Stanley Cup contender or miss the playoffs entirely. A lot will depend on Evgeni Malkin bouncing back, Matt Murray staying healthy, and figuring out a capable defense after their top pairing.

13. Dallas Stars. They have elite talent at all three levels (forward, defense, goalie) and Pavelski gives them a much-needed secondary scoring threat for their second line. Still some depth concerns, but this team was a double overtime goal away in Game 7 from reaching the Western Conference Final.

14. Florida Panthers. They addressed their biggest need with the addition of Sergei Bobrovsky, and while his contract will probably be a disaster before it ends, he is good enough in the short-term to help get them back in the playoffs, something they desperately need to do for their fans.

15. New York Islanders. Can Semyon Varlamov do what Robin Lehner did a year ago? If he can’t that is going to leave a big hole that will be difficult to overcome.

16. Columbus Blue Jackets. As long as one of Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins can be passable in net I am not sure the regression is going to be as significant as some think this season. They still have enough talent to compete for a playoff spot.

17. Chicago Blackhawks. They should be able to score, but forward depth is a concern and the defense, even after offseason changes, has big questions. An Olli MaattaBrent Seabrook defense pairing might be the league’s slowest.

18. Minnesota Wild. If everything goes right there is a path back to the playoffs this season. The return of a healthy Matt Dumba and Mikko Koivu would be a good start.

19. New York Rangers. Definitely a better team and what should be an entertaining one with the additions of Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko, but lack of depth down the middle and on defense will be their undoing.

20. New Jersey Devils. If Cory Schneider does not rebound in a big way it could undo what was a wildly successful summer.

21. Arizona Coyotes. Phil Kessel gives them the type of game-breaking offensive talent they have been lacking for more than a decade. Is that enough to get them back in the playoffs?

22. Philadelphia Flyers. Enough good players to be an interesting team and just enough question marks to not fully buy into them.

23. Montreal Canadiens. They were just a couple points shy of a playoff spot, but a lot of teams around them managed to get better while the Canadiens mostly stood pat.

24. Winnipeg Jets. The forwards are great, especially now that Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine are signed, but the state of that defense, especially without Dustin Byfuglien at the moment, is some real nightmare fuel for Winnipeg.

25. Buffalo Sabres. They have two franchise players and made some nice offseason upgrades, but there is a huge gap between them and the top-three teams (and probably top-four, if you include Florida) in their division.

26. Anaheim Ducks. Probably one of the best goalie duos in the league and some intriguing young forwards will get a chance to excel, but still too many holes.

27. Vancouver Canucks. Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and Quinn Hughes offer long-term hope. The rest of the roster does not.

28. Edmonton Oilers. It looks like they are on the verge of wasting another prime season of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, which is still difficult to comprehend.

29. Detroit Red Wings. Steve Yzerman is going to need some time to get this thing back on track.

30. Los Angeles Kings. Even if Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick bounce back there just isn’t enough talent around them to matter.

31. Ottawa Senators. Anything other than the worst record in the league would be an accomplishment.

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.