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Sharks still in trouble after miserable Florida weekend

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About a week ago the San Jose Sharks looked like they were getting back on track. They had won 11 out of 13 games, were climbing back up the standings, and starting to finally resemble the team that was supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender.

They were probably a little fortunate during that hot streak thanks to a bunch of one-goal wins, including a perfect 4-0 mark in games that went beyond regulation, but after the start they had they really need to stack up some points. To their credit, they did.

But after Sunday’s ugly 5-1 loss in Florida, which game just 24 hours after an even uglier 7-1 loss in Tampa Bay, the Sharks have now lost four games in a row and are just 6-8-2 away from the Shark Tank this season. This ugly Florida trip, which saw them be outscored by a 12-2 margin, also dropped their season goal-differential to a miserable minus-23, which is currently the second-worst in the Western Conference and one of the five worst in the entire NHL.

If you wanted to be an optimist about this team you could point to the fact that even with all of their struggles they are still just two points back of the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, still have enough talent on their roster to win, and still have 50 games remaining in the regular season to turn things around.

The problem with that is they have played more games (in many cases multiple games) than every team around them in the playoff race, while their point percentage (.500 as of Sunday night) is only 25th in the NHL, right between the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks, two teams that are going nowhere. They are only on pace for 82 points at the moment and still have a gigantic problem in goal. They were so dominant a year ago that they were able to mostly outplay their goaltending issues. They are not that dominant this season, and we are starting to get to a point where we are getting an idea of what every team is capable of and what they are.

The most concerning number for the Sharks is that goal-differential, because teams that get outscored by this many goals at this point in the season do not tend to get back on track. It is very simple: If you’re getting outscored by this many goals, and getting blown out this many times, it is probably a bad sign for how good your team actually is.

The Sharks have already lost 12 games this season by three goals or more. Only the Detroit Red Wings, a team that is looking to be historically bad, have lost more (14). The New Jersey Devils have only lost nine games by three goals or more. The Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers have only lost eight such games. These are teams that do not figure to be factors in the playoffs, and the Sharks are sitting there among them.

The Sharks’ wins are mostly close, one-goal games, and they have probably been very fortunate to be as good as they have in them (including 5-2 in OT/Shootouts), while they are getting completely blown out in their losses.

Not concerning enough?

Just consider these numbers as well.

— Over the past 10 years there have been 26 teams that have had a goal differential of minus-23 or worse through their first 32 games.

Do you know how many of those teams went on to make the playoffs that season?

Zero.

— Go back to the start of the 2005-06 season and teams in that situation are 0-for-40 in terms of making the playoffs.

— The last time a team with a goal differential this bad, at this point in the season, came back to make the playoffs was the 1997-98 Edmonton Oilers, who snuck into the No. 8 seed (with a losing record).

It might be early, and they may still be within striking distance of a playoff spot in the standings, but things are looking bleak for a team that still has the Stanley Cup in mind.

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.

 

 

Sharks finally starting to turn things around

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

With just four wins in their first 15 games it was easy to have some very valid concerns about the 2019-20 San Jose Sharks.

They not only still had what was probably the least productive goaltending duo in the league, but the team in front of those goalies looked to be a fraction of the one that had been a Stanley Cup contender in previous years. They were getting dominated territorially, their best players were not producing, and it seemed like a team that was inching its way toward a coaching change — or some other massive change — in an effort to shake things up. Especially since they already tried one roster move to try and turn things around by bringing back veteran forward Patrick Marleau long after it seemed like that was no longer going to be an option.

Things have rapidly started to change for the better in San Jose.

They enter Tuesday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers riding a six-game winning streak and are gaining ground on the teams around them in the Pacific Division.

[COVERAGE OF OILERS-SHARKS BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

They will have an opportunity to keep gaining that ground over the next few weeks with five of their next seven games –including Tuesday’s — coming against Pacific Division foes.

What has changed for the Sharks over the current winning streak?

How about everything.

Well, almost everything.

As a team, the Sharks are finally starting to dictate the pace of play, carrying the possession, and out-chancing teams, all of which is massive shift from earlier in the season. That is also starting to turn into goals, which is turning into ones.

Their top forwards have gone on a tear offensively starting with Logan Couture who has 11 points during the current winning streak. Beyond him, Tomas Hertl is pacing the team with six goals while Timo Meier has nine points.

On defense, Erik Karlsson has started to play like a true impact player and the Norris Trophy contender he should be every year. He has played 25 minutes per night during the streak, is rolling along at a 55 percent Corsi, has six points, and the Sharks are outscoring teams 11-3 when he is on the ice during 5-on-5 play.

They are also winning the special teams battle, and especially on the penalty kill. Since Nov. 4 (the day before the winning streak started) the Sharks have successfully killed 18 out of 19 penalties. That is good enough for the second best success rate in the league during that stretch, behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins who have been a perfect 12-for-12.

The only big question that exists right now is still the goaltending.

Even with all of their improved play overall the Sharks have still allowed 17 goals in six games, while starting goalie Martin Jones — who has appeared in all six games — still somehow has a save percentage of .891 during the streak, one of the worst marks in the league. It is absolutely amazing the Sharks have been able to turn their season around while Jones still struggles that much, and it is very reminiscent of how the team had to win a year ago.

It still seems like it is going to be a long-term issue that needs to be corrected if this team is going to get back to a championship level.

For now, though, the team in front of him is doing enough to dominate and take goaltending out of the equation and start getting the Sharks back on track.

Randy Hahn, Kendall Coyne Schofield and Bret Hedican will call the Oilers-Sharks contest from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. Paul Burmeister will host Tuesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.

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 Fantasy Hockey: Vrana, Strome among this week’s best adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Ondrej Palat, Lightning – LW: Palat saw his ice time dip to 14:53 per night in 2018-19 and he finished with 34 points in 64 games. This season he’s averaging 16:52 minutes a night and more recently it’s been even higher with him logging 18:56 minutes per game. He’s recently played on the second line with Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point and Monday morning he bumped up to the first line with Steven Stamkos, per The Athletic writer Joe Smith. Palat already has five goals and nine points in 13 games this season and this seems like a good time to give him a chance.

Andreas Johnsson, Maple Leafs – LW/RW: Johnsson is nothing exciting, but he’s solid. He had 20 goals and 43 points in 73 games last season and he might do a little better in 2019-20 after scoring four goals and nine points through 15 games. Having eligibility on both wings gives him some extra flexibility and he chips in a bit in most common fantasy category. He’s not a bad stopgap when you have an injury.

Ryan Strome, Rangers – C/LW: Strome has always had so much potential, but he couldn’t seem to harness it for long with the Islanders or the Oilers. Now with the rebuilding Rangers, he might have finally found another level. He has four goals and 11 points in 11 games this season. That’s thanks to his current hot streak, but he’s also averaged an impressive 17:56 minutes in 2019-20, which I think will help his staying power. Take him now if you have an opening for him in the hopes that this will be his breakout campaign.

Michal Kempny, Capitals – D: If you’re looking for a hot defenseman who is available in most leagues, Kempny is about as good as you can do. He’s owned in just 15% of Yahoo leagues and has scored two goals and six points in his last four contests. Just be prepared to drop him when he cools off because he’s probably going to be unremarkable overall this season.

Anthony Duclair, Senators – LW: Duclair showed promise back in 2015-16 with a 44-point rookie campaign, but that’s still his career-high. It’s too early to write him off at the age of 24, and playing for the lowly Senators is leading to him getting more ice time than ever before (15:33 minutes per game), but he’s still a high-risk pickup if you intend to hold onto him all season. For now though, he’s an interesting short-term play given how hot he is. He’s scored four goals and five points in his last four games.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Jakub Vrana, Capitals – LW: Vrana is on a five-game point streak, but he’s been especially crazy recently with five goals over his last two games. I don’t see him as a great long-term pickup, but you may as well take advantage of his hot streak while it lasts. Just don’t hesitate to drop him when he cools off.

Tomas Tatar, Canadiens – LW/RW: Tatar set a career-high last season with 58 points in 80 games and he seems to be building on that in 2019-20. He’s scored four goals and 11 points in 14 contests, which puts him on pace for 64 points. Despite that, his IPP is actually on the low side, which suggests that he might have actually had some bad puck luck thus far. Take that with a grain of salt, but even after doing that, he does look like a solid addition to most fantasy squads this season.

Oskar Lindblom, Flyers – LW: Lindblom is hot right now with two goals and four points in three games, but he’s also been solid throughout the 2019-20 campaign so far. He has seven goals and 11 points in 13 games, which would represent a big jump from his 33-point showing in 2018-19 if he could maintain his current pace. He probably will slow down – his 24.1 shooting percentage in particular looks unsustainable – but it’s still fair to bet on him comfortably surpassing the 33-point mark. A big part of that can be attributed to the 23-year-old’s development and his increased responsibilities. He’s gone from averaging 13:45 minutes in 2018-19 to 16:54 minutes this season.

Mark Borowiecki, Senators – D: Borowiecki is another player on a hot streak you might be able to ride, but there’s a nice secondary benefit to him. He has a goal and four points in his last four games, so if you grab him now and that streak lasts a little longer then that’s great. If it doesn’t though, the hits he provides are a good consolation prize. He ranks second among defensemen in the NHL with 47 hits in 12 contests and is first in hits per game among those who have participated in at least five contests.

Neal Pionk, Jets – D: Pionk is someone I’ve recommended before, but he’s still owned in just 49% of Yahoo leagues, so for many there’s still time to take him. He’s doing well in his second full NHL campaign and the shift form the Rangers to Winnipeg, which have given him a bigger role, has helped as well. He has two goals and nine points in 15 games this season.

Players You May Want To Drop

Dustin Byfuglien, Jets – D: If you were being patient with Byfuglien in the hope that eventually he’d report to the Winnipeg Jets and resume his NHL career, there isn’t much reason to still hold onto him. While it is possible that he will ultimately decide to play again, the situation changed when he underwent ankle surgery. He’s now expected to miss four months, which basically makes this season a write off no matter what he decides.

Patric Hornqvist, Penguins – RW: Hornqvist has been solid this season with five goals and 10 points in 14 games, but he’s now on the injured reserve list. He sustained a lower-body injury on Saturday and it’s believed that he will be out “longer-term,” per the Penguins. If you’re in a standard league, then Hornqvist doesn’t bring enough to the table to warrant holding onto him while he’s hurt unless you happen to have a spare IR slot to stash him in anyways.

Victor Olofsson, Sabres – LW/RW: Olofsson got off to an incredible start this season with six goals and eight points in seven games, but he has just two assists in his last eight contests. He’s also seen his ice time drop from an average of 18:10 during those first seven games to 16:13 in his most recent eight contests. His hot streak was nice while it lasted, but you may as well look elsewhere at this point.

Timo Meier, Sharks – LW/RW: Meier broke out in 2018-19 with 30 goals and 66 points in 78 games, but he can’t seem to get going this season. Through 15 games he has just two goals and four points in 15 contests. He’s far from the only Sharks player who has underperformed, but he is one of the more extreme cases. I think it’s fair to evaluate your alternatives at this point.

Martin Jones, Sharks – G: Jones is a bit of a different situation as far as the Sharks go. Even when they’re good, he’s somewhat suspect. Jones has his moments, but he had a 2.94 GAA and .896 save percentage in 62 starts last season despite the strength of the team in front of him. His main appeal from a fantasy perspective last season was wins and so far in 2019-20 he doesn’t even have that going for him. He has a 2-7-1 record, 3.52 GAA, and .887 save percentage in 11 contests. Even if the rest of the Sharks bounce back, I’m not sure Jones will be particularly good. He’s one of the weakest starter options in the league from a fantasy perspective.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

Which slow-starting Stanley Cup contender can turn it around?

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One month into the NHL season and there are a lot of things in the standings that are upside down.

Teams like Buffalo, Edmonton, and Vancouver that were expected to be in the basement are all near the top, while Stanley Cup contenders like Tampa Bay, Toronto, and San Jose have stumbled.

It is a long season and the early surprises still have to prove they have staying power, while the the disappointments have time to turn things around. We have seen the latter happen over the past few years with the 2019 St. Louis Blues and 2016 Pittsburgh Penguins overcoming brutal starts to win the Stanley Cup. Not every team is that lucky, and both of those examples needed to go undergo significant in-season changes to their roster and coaching staff to reach the top.

Is there a preseason contender off to a slow start this year capable of such a turnaround?

Let’s look at three of the big ones.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Confidence in a turnaround: Fairly high

The pressure is on for this team to do something significant this season and so far they are not really doing much to inspire confidence that this team will turn out any different than the past three. They can score a lot of goals, they give up a lot of goals, and as of Thursday have won just six of their first 14 games of the season. It is one of the worst 14-game stretches they have had over the past three years, being topped only by their 14-game stretch to end the 2018-19 season (when they won only four games down the stretch).

If you’re looking for a positive in Toronto it’s that for all of the struggles they have had so far there are signs that they can easily get this turned around.

For one, they are going to be getting John Tavares back soon. That’s a big add to the lineup.

And for as much as they have struggled to keep the puck out of their own net, a lot of that is related to the play of their goalies. They still have their share of flaws defensively, but they are the second-best shot attempt differential team in the league and while they still give up a lot of shot attempts, they have  cut that number down from where it was a year ago. The biggest issue is in goal where Frederik Andersen has not yet played up to his expected level and backup Michael Hutchinson has given them literally zero chance in the four games he has started.

There is reason to believe Andersen will be better based on his track record, and a backup goalie can be fixed with a trade. Better goaltending can fix a lot of these early problems.

Whether that is enough to get by the Boston Bruins or to actually do something in the playoffs remains to be seen. But they will be there and have the chance.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Confidence in a turnaround: High, but with some caution

Always bet on talent, and the Lightning are still the most talented team in the league on paper. That is the good news.

Here is my concern: Do you remember about a decade ago when the Washington Capitals were the best regular season team in the league every year, won the Presidents’ Trophy with 54 wins, and then got bounced in Round 1 by a No. 8 seed Montreal team that would have had no chance in beating them if not for a super-human goaltending performance from Jaroslav Halak? And then the Capitals responded by trying to fix themselves by changing what they did and the way they played only to self-sabotage themselves and take about two steps backwards?

I fear the Lightning have hit that phase.

It is not just the fact that they are not winning as regularly as they have that is concerning. It is the way they are playing. They are getting out-shot, out-attempted, out-chanced, and out-everything during 5-on-5 play. They have one of the worst shot attempt differentials in the league through 12 games and are simply not generating as much as they did a year ago. They are still scoring goals, but they are relying heavily on the power play to do it and not carrying play at even-strength. No one seems to be afraid of the team that put the fear of god into every opponent for 82 games just one year ago.

Is it a matter of simply working through some new ideas? A slow start with some needed adversity? Or a concerning trend that is maybe an overreaction to (an admittedly horrible) postseason defeat?

[Related: Lightning fighting through some early season adversity]

San Jose Sharks

Confidence in a turnaround: Not without a major change or two. 

The goaltending is still a major issue, but we already knew that. They also do not seem to have any interest in trying to fix it, something else that should have been obvious after the way last year unfolded.

But that is not the only thing broken here. The whole system seems broken. This has been, quite simply, the worst 5-on-5 team in the league this season by pretty much any objective measure you want to look at it. You want to look at underlying numbers like shot attempts, scoring chances, high-danger chances, or expected goals? All among the worst in the league and down near the potential lottery teams.

You want to look at something more basic like simply goals for and against? Worst in the NHL at 5-on-5, getting outscored by a 37-19 margin. That is goals-for percentage of just 33 percent. The next worst team in the league in that category is Detroit at 40 percent (20 for, 29 against). There is no way to sugarcoat that, it is just bad with a capital B-A-D.

There was a point last year where the Blues were playing the right way, doing everything well defensively, and still losing because they couldn’t get a goalie to make a save. All they needed was somebody to solidify that position to turn things around. The Sharks still need that, too. But what’s even worse is that they also need the rest of the team to get its act straightened out as well.

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.

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.