Kevin Labanc kept his goal-scoring going, a positive sign early in last night's game against the Washington Capitals. A well-engineered breakout got Joe Thornton into the Capitals’ zone before he sent a pass through a defender’s legs to a wide open Labanc. Washington goalie Braden Holtby stood no chance against the Staten Islander’s uncontested wrist shot from in close.
Joe Pavelski committed an offensive-zone penalty just after the Sharks’ goal, which led to a Washington power play goal. It was Alex Ovechkin from the Ovechkin spot, Martin Jones fumbling a rebound, and T.J. Oshie banking it in off Marc-Edouard Vlasic that combined for the tally. San Jose exhibited more of its iffy penalty killing. Their system does not send defensemen to pressure the puck and allows the power players to set up easily in the zone, picking out picturesque passes to the tape of awaiting teammates. All you hear when the puck is in the zone is pass ... click. Pass ... click. Pass ... click.
We’ll remember the puck bouncing off Brent Burns’ skate before the Capitals’ second goal, but the play started after the Sharks allowed the Capitals to turn a routine save into an odd-man rush the other way.
None of the stats websites, including ESPN, were working during the game. As a result, all we have to go by is that the Sharks came out of the opening frame losing 10-12 in the shots-on-goal battle (all strengths). Usually, that suggests the Sharks were also getting outshot at 5-on-5, but the Capitals did register at least one shot on goal during their power play. In other words, the game may have been more even than the available box score suggested. Still, the eye test told us the Capitals’ 2-1 lead was probably well-deserved.
Washington scored two more goals before the second buzzer buzzed. On their third goal, Timo Meier and Logan Couture overstayed their welcome in the offensive zone. When the puck slid back in the other direction, the two were fresh out of gas and unable to contribute much defensively.
The period devolved from there, though not all was terrible. The Sharks showed why they are one of the most effective teams in the league while trailing by a goal or two, getting oh-so-close to knocking rubber past Holtby’s outstretched limbs. The team’s push just didn’t yield the results they or anyone would expect from a rapid-fire battering of their opponent’s goal mouth.
After that, it was “academic,” as they say. San Jose failed to mount any truly threatening attack. They continued to take penalties and allowed Washington free passage through the neutral zone. The game was not a warning sign in that the Sharks lost handily to what has been a struggling team of late. The contest was frightening for the Sharks organization moving forward, because it badly exposed some of the team’s biggest weaknesses.
Goaltending may be this team’s undoing
The Sharks need to trade for a goaltender to have a shot at a Stanley Cup this season. If Martin Jones wants to finish with a save percentage above .900, he’ll have to put up about .910 the rest of the way, or save about one extra goal every three games, if his shots-against rates stay the same. In the playoffs, where so much depends upon a strong save percentage coupled with luck behind a good team, poor goaltending can be a contender’s undoing.
Maybe Ovi scores anyway - he's incredible. But Jones is a mess on this one. If I took this path to stop a shots from there at Friday night hockey, I'd get lit up too. https://t.co/5EjZL6HuI3— Paul Campbell (@WayToGoPaul) February 15, 2019
The penalty kill is not helping matters
The coaching staff put Marcus Sorensen and Evander Kane together on the penalty kill during the third period. Kane should spend more time on the penalty kill, alongside Meier, at least according to their defensive impact as measured by Evolving-Hockey. The Sharks don’t allow many shots on the penalty kill, but they allow a higher rate of dangerous chances than almost any team in the league. One potential reason for this phenomenon: Only one Sharks forward really pressures out on opposing power players. When the puck goes low along the boards, the Sharks’ defenders don’t pressure the puck handler, leaving him free to look for passing lanes. The result is a penalty kill that may not allow many shots because opponents realize they can set up and dissect more carefully San Jose’s frustrating kill.
Defense could be better
On the season, the Sharks’ 5-on-5 defensive performance is similar to that of their power play. They limit opponents’ shots, but they still allow other teams to create a fairly average rate of chances. That the Sharks are so good at keeping opposing shots at bay is probably good enough to get them far into the postseason. But, the team would do well to see if they can close the gap that appears right around their goal.
The Sharks should rest easy tonight, ready for the next adventure. One game does not necessarily indicate a whole lot, especially when a quarter of the season still remains. If Sharks general manager Doug Wilson wants to make a statement move, he’ll trade for a good goaltender at the deadline and give this team a boost where it surely needs it most.