It’s unwise to make many judgments of a team after the first game of the season. It’s especially silly to concern yourself too much with the outcome of a game in which the team was missing one of its better forwards and arguably its most important player. But, that’s where we find ourselves nonetheless, after a 4-1 loss in Las Vegas without Evander Kane (suspension) and without Erik Karlsson (last-minute personal matter).
On their way to a 0-1 start, the San Jose Sharks took just 39 percent of all 5-on-5 shots and were able to muster just 28.4 percent of all expected goals at 5-on-5 after adjusting for the score and venue (Natural Stat Trick). In a word, the first game of the 2019-20 season was ugly.
The first period was the Sharks’ best, both on the scoreboard and in the fancy stats tables. After those initial 20 minutes, everything seemed to go haywire.
Unable to create offense anywhere remotely close to Marc-Andre Fleury’s crease, the Sharks instead resorted to hammering away from the points and other less exciting locations. At the other end of the ice it was pure trouble for a stranded Martin Jones, forced to face 35 shots, a third of which were of the high-danger variety. In that endless barrage were positive signs, if you’ll allow yourself a moment to suspend disbelief.
At 5-on-5, Jones was expected to allow 2.32 goals, and he only allowed two. At all strengths, Jones allowed 0.75 more goals than expected. But, I don’t care what the models say, there’s no way the expected save percentage on the two-on-none break the Knights enjoyed while killing a penalty was anything above a cold, hard zero. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Sharks game in front of Martin Jones if there weren’t some concern.
Even if we do not fault him for as many goals as he allowed, we can worry ourselves somewhat about his performance on high-danger shots. High-danger performance, after all, is the most predictive of all the different danger performances and the strongest signal we have when attempting to understand a goalie’s true skill level. Between the 2015-16 and 2017-18 seasons, Jones’ high-danger save percentage at 5-on-5 was a smidge above 80 percent. Last year, that figure dipped to 77 percent, an ominous sign for a goalie that would emerge from the season a 29-year-old staring down the back half of a lucrative contract extension (Corsica).
So, while we can take some solace in Jones’ overall performance last night, we can also weep gently before we collect ourselves and head to work after reading that his save percentage on 5-on-5 high-danger shots was a measly 77.8 percent.
As the goaltending goes, the trade-chances-for-60-minutes-because-why-not team goes, too. Paving the way for the opening night’s abject misery was Tomas Hertl’s temporary second line. Last night, Lean Bergmann, a 21-year-old newcomer, and defensively sound but not so enticing around the net Lukas Radil played wingman for the Czech pivot. Together, the trio helped the Sharks take just 25.8 percent of all 5-on-5 shots, a mark 15 percent worse than the rest of the team.
Defensively, Tim Heed and rookie Mario Ferraro struggled as a pair. While the two of them were on the ice together at 5-on-5, the Sharks gathered just 27 percent of all scoring chances (Natural Stat Trick). Perhaps that’s an unsurprising finding given two of their most-common 5-on-5 opponents were Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty.
While Bergmann and Ferraro were unable to create much chemistry with their teammates, Danil Yurtaykin meshed well with Logan Couture and Timo Meier. Yurtaykin was just about team-average when it came to 5-on-5 shot share. He was constantly trying to carry the puck into the offensive zone and create something whenever he could. Especially if Meier misses time after suffering an injury late in the game, Yurtaykin will likely be stapled to Couture’s wing, a promising development for the team.
We shouldn’t concern ourselves too much with the outcome of the first game of the season, the team shorthanded more than expected and in the midst of a crash course for three rookies and a Dylan Gambrell. Not all three newcomers looked great, but none of them looked horrible. Each seemed, most importantly, to mostly belong on NHL ice next to one of the league’s best teams.
Against that team, some old trends reappeared. The team allowed far too many scoring chances, and Martin Jones struggled to fight off the resulting up-close shots. San Jose will have to fix one or both of those things if it wants to make another long run into the spring.
In the meantime, we can enjoy that the organization may have found some NHL-ready free agents this summer and that Ferraro will make life difficult on the coaching staff once Radim Simek returns from injury. So, while the scoreline read something silly, there was hope beneath that surface, and that’s enough to build on for now.