Aaron Dell

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Sharks will sink or swim based on goaltending

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the San Jose Sharks.

Sometimes, when you get a little time and separation from a narrative, you realize that maybe the thing people were obsessed about wasn’t really a big deal.

Well, Martin Jones‘ 2018-19 season doesn’t exactly age like fine wine. The output is far more vinegar.

With Aaron Dell not faring well either, and the Sharks losing a key piece like Joe Pavelski during the offseason, the Sharks’ goaltending is an X-factor for 2019-20. Simply put, as talented as this team is, they might not be able to lug a dismal duo of goalies in the same way once again.

Because, all things considered, it’s surprising that the Sharks got as far as the 2019 Western Conference Final with that goalie duo.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | Three questions]

Jones suffered through his first season below a 90 save percentage, managing a terrible .896 mark through 64 regular-season games. The 29-year-old had his moments during the playoffs; unfortunately, most of those moments were bad, as his save percentage barely climbed (.898) over 20 turbulent postseason contests.

The Sharks didn’t get much relief when they brought in their relief pitcher, either. Dell managed worse numbers during the regular season (.886) and playoffs (.861), making you wonder how barren the Sharks’ goalie prospect pipeline could be. After all, it must have been frightening to imagine it getting much worse than those two.

And, as much as people seem to strain to blame Erik Karlsson for any goalies’ woes, it’s pretty tough to pin this on the Sharks’ defense.

About the most generous thing you could say is that the Sharks were close to the middle of the pack when it came to giving up high-danger scoring chances. Otherwise, the Sharks were dominant by virtually all of Natural Stat Trick’s even-strength defensive metrics, allowing the fewest shots against and the fourth lowest scoring chances against, among other impressive numbers.

The Sharks managing to be so stingy while also being a dominant force on offense is a testament to the talent GM Doug Wilson assembled, but again, Pavelski’s departure stands as a reminder that there could be some growing pains, particularly at the start of 2019-20.

With that in mind, the Sharks would sure love to get a few more stops after dealing with the worst team save percentage of last season.

The bad news is that, frankly, Jones hasn’t really stood out (in a good way, at least) as a starting goalie for much of his career. Having $5.75 million per year through 2023-24 invested in Jones is downright alarming when you consider his unimpressive career .912 save percentage, even if you give him some kudos for strong playoff work before 2018-19.

It was easy to forget in the chaos of San Jose’s Game 7 rally against the Golden Knights, but Jones allowing soft goals like these often sank the Sharks as much as any opponent:

The better news is that last season was unusual for Jones.

Consider that, during his three previous seasons as the Sharks’ workhorse from 2015-16 through 2017-18, Jones went 102-68-16 with a far more palatable .915 save percentage. That merely tied Jones for 22nd place among goalies who played at least 50 games during that span, but it tied Jones with the likes of Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist.

The Sharks had often been accustomed to better play from Dell, too, including a strong rookie year where Dell managed a .931 save percentage during 20 games in 2016-17.

It’s up to Jones and Dell to perform at a higher level in 2019-20, and for head coach Peter DeBoer to determine if there are any structural issues that need fixing.

As powerful as last year’s Sharks could be, next season’s version could have an even higher ceiling if they even get league-average goaltending, making Jones (and their goalies) a big X-factor.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• 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.

Sharks vs. Avalanche: PHT 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff preview

The San Jose Sharks entered the season as one of the serious contenders for the Stanley Cup, but they are a team with a major concern and it nearly resulted in them losing to Vegas in Round 1. That concern is goaltender Martin Jones.

Certainly Round 1 wasn’t all bad for Jones. He was solid in Game 1 and stopped an incredible 58 of 59 shots in Game 6. In between that though, he was a disaster. Vegas chased Jones out of Games 2 and 4 and beat him six times in Game 3. One of the things that stretch also demonstrated is Sharks coach Peter DeBoer’s lack of faith in backup Aaron Dell, who struggled this season. If Dell was ever going to start in a playoff game this year, it would have been after those three ugly starts by Jones. For better or worse, the Sharks will stick with Jones.

Regardless, the Sharks deserve credit for rallying. They overcame a 3-1 series deficit against Vegas and had a Game 7 that will be discussed for years to come. With San Jose down 3-0 midway through the third period, Cody Eakin crosschecked Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, resulting in a scary injury and a five-minute major to Eakin. The Sharks scored four times during that power-play en route to a 5-4 overtime victory.

Colorado’s series against Calgary was far less dramatic. Although the Flames were regarded as the heavy favorites, the Avalanche surged to get into the playoffs and weren’t slowed down by Calgary. Colorado eliminated the Flames in five games thanks to hot goaltending and two very effective scoring lines.

Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon were everything the Avalanche could have hoped for in Round 1 while on the Flames side, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan combined to score just a single goal. Colorado has emerged as a great Cinderella story, but this is a year where there have been plenty of Cinderella stories to chose from.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Schedule

Surging Players

Sharks: Erik Karlsson was unavailable for most of the last third of the season due to a groin injury, but he has excelled in the playoffs. He’s tied with Jaccob Slavin for the league lead in assists with nine and has averaged 27:15 minutes per game in the postseason. Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture were also major factors in Round 1. Each forward finished with six goals and eight points and both are entering Round 2 on a three-game goal scoring streak.

Avalanche: As mentioned above, Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon did everything possible for Colorado in Round 1. With the exception of Game 1 where the Avalanche were shutout, the Flames simply couldn’t contain them. Rantanen had five goals and nine points in the five-game series while MacKinnon finished with three goals and eight points. In Rantanen’s case, he’s also on a four-game multi-point streak.

Struggling Players

Sharks: Gustav Nyquist was fine in the regular season after being acquired by the Sharks, but he was quiet in Round 1. He had no goals and three assists in the seven-game series and was held off the scoresheet in Games 6 and 7. They could certainly use more from him going forward, especially if Pavelski’s injury ends up sidelining him for a significant amount of time.

Avalanche: Colorado was led by its star forwards in Round 1, but in Round 2 the Avalanche will likely need more from their supporting cast. Carl Soderberg and Alexander Kerfoot each had just one assist against Calgary. There were only nine forwards in Round 1 that averaged at least 17 minutes and finished with no goals. Of them, only four are playing on teams that advanced to Round 2 and Colorado has two of those four forwards in Soderberg and Kerfoot.

Goaltending

Sharks: Martin Jones has been the Sharks’ main weakness this season, but it wasn’t always that way. He was a solid netminder for San Jose from 2015-16 through 2017-18, but he was horribly inconsistent in 2018-19 and finished with a 2.94 GAA and .896 save percentage in 62 starts. Among goaltenders who started in at least 40 games, only Jonathan Quick on the Western Conference-worst Los Angeles Kings finished with a lower save percentage.

The Sharks continued to lean on Jones though because Aaron Dell was even worse. Dell, who had been a solid backup in his previous two seasons, finished 2018-19 with a 3.17 GAA and .886 save percentage in 25 contests.

As mentioned in the intro, those goaltending woes extended into Round 1 and are something the Avalanche will need to exploit in Round 2.

Avalanche A hot goaltender can take you far in the playoffs and right now Philipp Grubauer is very hot indeed. He’s certainly had rough patches this season, but he’s also a big part of the reason the Avalanche were even able to make the playoffs. From Feb. 23 onward, he posted a 9-2-2 record, 1.44 GAA, and .956 save percentage in 14 contests.

Grubauer proved to be a big problem for Calgary in Round 1 too. The best the Flames did against him was in Game 1 when he allowed three goals on 31 shots. After that, Grubauer surrendered just seven goals over the final four contests, giving him a 1.90 GAA and .939 save percentage in five postseason starts this year.

He also had a chance to lead the Capitals at the start of the 2018 playoffs, but struggled out of the gate, resulting in Braden Holtby taking over in Game 2 and leading Washington the rest of the way. Grubauer has taken advantage of this second chance to show that he can be a strong playoff goaltender.

Special Teams

Sharks: San Jose had eight power-play goals in Round 1, but four of them came on that major penalty to Eakin. While it was a dramatic way to end the series, it has also skewed their power-play numbers. That said, the Sharks ranked sixth in the regular season with a 23.6% power-play success rate and they’re certainly capable of continuing to be very effect with the man advantage going forward. Their ability to kill penalties is a far bigger question mark. The Sharks were a mid-tier team in that regard in the regular season with an 80.8% success rate and their PK was heavily exploited by Vegas in Round 1. Of the teams that advanced, San Jose has the worst playoff penalty kill percentage at 72.4%.

Avalanche: Colorado was 5-for-25 on the power play in Round 1. Unsurprisingly, it was MacKinnon and Rantanen leading the charge there too. The duo combined for four of the five markers and MacKinnon got a point on all five power-play goals. In the regular season, the Avalanche ranked seventh on the power play with a 22% success rate. The Avalanche killed only 78.7% of their penalties in the regular season though, making them one of the worst teams in that regard. Colorado wasn’t any better in Round 1, killing 77.3% of their penalties. It’s looking like this is going to be a series where both squads will be able to frequently take advantage of their power-play opportunities.

X-Factor For Sharks

Not to be a broken record about it, but their goaltending. There’s just so much else to love about this team. They have both star power and depth up front. They have two Norris Trophy winners on defense. They have veterans loaded with playoff experience and plenty of reason to be hungry. The one element that’s potentially missing here is goaltending.

Jones doesn’t need to be great, he might not even need to be good. It’s hard to see the Sharks getting through without him being at least passable though. San Jose managed to just barely recover from Jones’ meltdown from Games 2-4. The Sharks might not be able to survive if he endures a similar slump going forward.

X-Factor For Avalanche

Everything beyond the Avalanche’s big three. Rantanen and MacKinnon couldn’t have been asked to do more in Round 1 and while Gabriel Landeskog wasn’t as effective as that duo, he certainly contributed too with a goal and four points in five games. The larger question is if the Avalanche have the offensive depth to go deeper into the playoffs. If the Sharks manage to shutdown the Avalanche’s stars, can the supporting cast step up?

The Avalanche don’t have a lot of offensive weapons beyond their big three, which made Soderberg and Kerfoot’s quiet first round all the more alarming. They ranked fourth and fifth respectively in Colorado’s forwards scoring race in the regular season. They’re also the only two forwards on the Avalanche that recorded at least 40 points outside of the big three.

The silver lining is that the Avalanche did get some secondary scoring from other sources in Round 1. Matt Nieto, who had 23 points in the regular season, scored two goals and four points in five playoff contests. After finishing 2018-19 with 27 points, Colin Wilson came up big in Game 5 with two goals and an assist.

Prediction

Sharks in 6. I think I’ve made it clear at this point that Jones gives me pause and there’s also the question of Pavelski’s status, which at the time of writing is still unknown. Even with that though, San Jose is far closer to the complete package than Colorado. I can certainly envision scenarios where the Avalanche win this series — especially in what is becoming the year of the upsets — but if you’re asking for what I believe is the most probable outcome, it would have to be San Jose advancing.

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info
Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1
Blue Jackets vs. Bruins
Hurricanes vs. Islanders
Blues vs. Stars

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Golden Knights even series with Sharks on night of wild swings

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This was a game of wild momentum swings and certainly had controversy, but when all was said-and-done, Vegas earned a 5-3 victory over San Jose to even the series at 1-1.

Early on, it didn’t look like this contest would be nearly as dramatic. Cody Eakin, Colin Miller, and Max Pacioretty each scored within the first 6:11 minutes of the game to chase Sharks goaltender Martin Jones.

Jones held his own in Game 1, but the 2018-19 campaign was a rough one for him and it raised questions about if the Sharks are truly a serious Stanley Cup contender with him between the pipes. Certainly this game did nothing to silence his critics, but San Jose’s night was far from over. With Aaron Dell now in net, the Sharks stormed back.

Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, and Joe Thornton scored within the span of just 2:09 minutes late in the first period and suddenly the game was actually tied going into the first intermission.

Things seemed to continue to go San Jose’s way when Brent Burns‘ shot beat Marc-Andre Fleury early in the second period. However, the goal was called back because Logan Couture’s elbow swung into Fleury’s head. The fact that the goal was waived off is something that most probably agree with, but it seems safe to say that Sharks fans and the Sharks themselves take issue with the goaltender inference penalty. To make matters worse for San Jose, that penalty proved to be critical as Mark Stone scored the game-winner on the subsequent power play.

Still, it would be wrong to suggest that San Jose was simply robbed Friday night, even if you do disagree with that call. The Sharks had eight power-play opportunities to Vegas’ three. Not only did San Jose only score on one of those power-play chances, but they surrendered two shorthanded goals, including one to William Karlsson at 7:35 of the third period to give the Golden Knights some breathing room.

Between Jones’ sloppy start and San Jose’s less than stellar showing when it came to special teams, it’s not hard to see how Vegas won this one.

Sharks-Golden Knights Game 3 from T-Mobile Arena will be Sunday night at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Golden Knights make quick work of Martin Jones in Game 2

The biggest question for the San Jose Sharks going into the playoffs was if goaltender Martin Jones was up to the task of leading them to a championship. On Friday, we got a reminder as to why there are such serious concerns about him.

Looking to bounce back from a 5-2 loss in Game 1, Vegas came out strong Friday night. Cody Eakin scored just 58 seconds into the game. That goal wasn’t necessarily on Jones, but then Colin Miller scored at 4:37 and Max Pacioretty made it 3-0 at 6:11.

Unlike the Eakin goal, the other two looked like ones Jones should have stopped so it’s not surprising that he was yanked in favor of Aaron Dell. Jones doesn’t have a great resume against Vegas and this only added to that history of misery for him.

After the goaltending change, the Sharks battled back to tie it at 3-3 before the first intermission, but still ended up losing 5-3. The series is still just tied at 1-1, but Vegas’ quick work of Jones serves as a reminder of the larger concern with the Sharks.

Sharks-Golden Knights Game 3 from T-Mobile Arena will be Sunday night at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Sharks’ belief in goalie remains high despite down season

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — With nine players with at least 50 points, four 30-goal scorers and three world-class defensemen, the San Jose Sharks have almost all the ingredients necessary to make a long playoff run.

The one major question facing the Sharks is in goal, where Martin Jones struggled all season and enters the postseason with the lowest save percentage for any starter on a playoff team.

Despite that apparent weakness, the Sharks never wavered in their confidence in their goaltender. The team declined to make a move before the trade deadline to add a more consistent netminder in the hopes that Jones can regain the form that made him such a valuable part of the franchise in his first three playoffs with the Sharks.

”They should have a stat that says belief in your goaltender,” coach Peter DeBoer said Monday as his team began preparing for a first-round series against Vegas. ”If they had that stat, Jonesy would be batting a thousand with our group. There’s not one mumble or whisper in our group about him or our confidence in him to get the job done. That’s the one analytic stat I can give you guys that maybe you don’t have access to.”

That confidence has been earned the past three postseasons. Jones has a .926 career save percentage in the playoffs, the sixth best in NHL history among goalies with at least 40 starts. He has allowed two or fewer goals in nearly two-thirds of his appearances. He has allowed more than three goals in regulation just twice in his past 32 playoff starts.

That kind of performance is why the Sharks signed him to a six-year, $34.5 million extension two summers ago.

”He seems to really dial in for big games,” defenseman Justin Braun said. ”You’re not worried about him this time of year to make the saves he needs to make.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

But that level of play has been missing this season. Jones finished the season with a 2.94 goals against average and an .896 save percentage that ranked 52nd in the league among the 56 goalies with at least 20 starts. He allowed four or more goals in 19 of his 62 games and at least three 36 times – tied for the second most in the league in both categories.

But Jones allowed more than three goals just twice in his last 14 starts.

”I feel pretty good,” he said. ”I think that last stretch of games I haven’t gotten results every time but I feel like I’ve been playing really well down the stretch in a few of these games. I feel good. Ready to rock.”

The struggles in goal this season have placed heavy pressure on San Jose’s offense, which needs to generate lots of scoring to remain in games. The Sharks lost all 20 games they played when scoring two or fewer goals, becoming the first team since Montreal 18 years ago to fail to record a single win when failing to score three goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Luckily for the Sharks, they do have plenty of firepower that they don’t need Jones to be brilliant to succeed. They tied for second in the NHL this season with 289 goals and became the first team in 10 years with four 30-goal scorers (Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, Evander Kane).

The one major question has been on the number of goals allowed, which has been fueled in part by turnovers on offense that lead to too many odd-man rushes.

”Goals are breakdowns usually by multiple players on the ice,” forward Logan Couture said. ”That’s defensemen and forwards as well. We didn’t have the year we wanted to with the amount of goals we gave up, but it’s a clean slate right now.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports