It is another year of San Jose limping into the playoffs. This time, the goaltending is the main concern with Erik Karlsson being another source of worry. The Sharks will finish with home-ice advantage but draw the Vegas Golden Knights in Round 1. Vegas eliminated the Sharks last season during the second round in six games.
San Jose, through 81 games, is 45-27-9. A win over the Edmonton Oilers rights the ship a little. However, the concerns for San Jose feel a bit familiar. Is the defense good enough, the health of Karlsson, and whether Martin Jones can win when it matters?
The Goaltending: Martin Jones and Aaron Dell
This has been a sore spot all season despite the record. Martin Jones played in 61 games for San Jose and won 35 games while losing 19 in regulation and five beyond 60 minutes. His 2.95 goals against average and .896 save percentage are below the league average. Worse, Jones has allowed a league leading 174 goals on the season.
Jones’ penalty-kill save percentage is not far off from his even strength save percentage. Even more dire is the 14 “really bad starts” that Jones has delivered. A “really bad start” is any start with a save percentage below 85%. The league average is .910.
Unfortunately, those are some ugly statistics, so what about Aaron Dell? The stat lines get even worse. Dell is 9-8-4 with a 3.23 goals-against average and .884 save percentage (two shutouts). Those are barely minor league numbers. When the backup cannot adequately spell the starting goaltender, that creates an even bigger problem.
Jones and Dell combined have created a body of work this season that borders on mind-blowing. San Jose sports a league-worst .888 save percentage. The team combines for nearly a 25% rate of “really bad starts” as well. Furthermore, Jones has a goals-saved above average of nearly 24 goals below average while Dell is just above 15. That is a huge number heading into the playoffs. Both goalies have an even-strength save percentage below .900. Again, that is something one would see in the AHL or ECHL, not the NHL.
San Jose decided to do nothing at the trade deadline – hoping the goaltenders would sort themselves out. The reality is things only became worse. For those wondering, San Jose is dead last in save percentage and shots against which is a first for the modern era. Despite this, the Sharks have 45 wins. Imagine how many wins they would have even with league-average goaltending.
One caveat with Martin Jones is his ability to rise to the occasion come the playoffs. His .926 career save percentage is far better than his .910 regular season percentage.
There is one other side to the coin when it comes to San Jose.
Erik Karlsson: The injury riddle
When Karlsson has been in the lineup, San Jose is a different team. The problem is Karlsson playing just 52 games on the season. He missed nearly 30 contests due to two groin injuries mainly. Some debate if it was from overcompensating in his recovery but little of that matters now. At full health, Karlsson had 45 points in 52 games helping the Sharks field a semblance of a team defense. However, even with Karlsson there were some contradictory numbers.
Karlsson’s possession metrics were 7% above the team relative but the on-ice save percentage at 5-on-5 was just 88.1%. That is the same percentage as in Karlsson’s last year in Ottawa. Does that indicate a pattern? It is a bit of an unsettling start to a trend, perhaps.
Offensively, Karlsson had just three goals on 167 shots (1.8%). That was a career low for the defenseman who was on pace for just five goals (another career low). Despite that, San Jose was able to keep shots and scoring chances down. It just tends to be up to the goaltenders to be more of a last line of defense.
Then, there were the groin injuries, leaving us with one glaring reality. The type of injury that Karlsson has suffered from makes him a liability in round one against the speed of the Vegas Golden Knights. Add in the fact that the defenseman injured his groin worse is a scary proposition mobility wise. All eyes will be on Karlsson whether he returns on Saturday or during the first round.
Some Final Thoughts
Vegas is a team that can exploit these deficiencies quickly. San Jose will have to play faster and better. This means Karlsson had better be as close to 100% as humanly possible. Also, can Martin Jones get back to that stretch earlier in the season where he was 12-3-2 with a .920 save percentage. If San Jose sees close to that level of goaltending, the Sharks can win this series. That might cause a rise in their futures which have dipped to a season low +1300 to win the Stanley Cup.
San Jose faces an uphill road but once fought the odds to come within two wins of the Stanley Cup in 2016. For them to make a deep run, they need a healthy Erik Karlsson and the Martin Jones from the playoffs to return to form. Concern should definitely be in abundance but there is also some hope.
By Chris Wassel