We all know what Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns can do.
It’s the Martin Jones and Evander Kanes that could make the difference between another second-round exit or a deep post-season run for the San Jose Sharks.
In big and small ways, both Jones and Kane brought their best in last night’s 3-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights.
There was nothing bigger than Jones’s 36 saves, on his birthday no less. After a very slow start to the season, Jones appears to have normalized his game. Since Dec. 2, he has registered an 11-2-1 record with a solid .917 save percentage.
In that stretch, per Natural Stat Trick, he’s also boasted the fifth-best High-danger Save Percentage in the league (.857 — of 19 goalies, 500+ minutes of 5-on-5).
In a contest where the Golden Knights certainly had their chances, Jones was clutch. The Sharks will need goaltending that is, at the very least, timely to go the playoff distance.
Speaking of San Jose’s post-season ambitions, Kane is another swing player. Kane’s game-changing talent is obvious, but there have been a few too many nights this season when the winger hasn’t appeared to be worth his seven-year, $49 million contract.
It’s not just about goals with Kane — last night, he scored none — it’s about maximizing his rare combination of size and speed, even when he’s without the puck.
Officially, Tomas Hertl’s first goal was unassisted. Unofficially, Kane was robbed:
The Sharks cleared the puck to Nate Schmidt (88). From blueline to blueline, Kane (9) sprinted and closed on Vegas’s top defenseman like few in the world could. This hustle prompted Schmidt to hurry his pass, which Hertl (48) claimed. Hertl turnstiled Ryan Carpenter (40), leaving Hertl one-on-one against Schmidt.
Kane, however, was offside. But the winger didn’t let up, literally jumping his way back onside. Joakim Ryan (47) joined Hertl on the attack, occupying Valentin Zykov (7). This ensured Hertl would have his one-on-one. Hertl cut in, used Schmidt as a screen, and sniped it off the post and in.
But this goal wouldn’t have happened without two key hustle plays from Kane. He slows down at all, it’s still 1-0 Vegas.
Some players have one thing. The thing they’re good at that gets them into the NHL. Take that away, they’re beatable.
Kane, on the other hand, has so many tools. Take away his scoring, he should be able to exert his size and speed and aggressiveness on the forecheck, in a physical game, on the backcheck, you name it. He’s talented enough to always have a positive impact on a game, not just most of the time.