Midseason Review: Are the Sharks a good hockey team?
They haven't been great, but there's still reason to believe in the Sharks.
Games like Saturday's loss against Winnipeg don't exactly inspire confidence, and the Sharks have played their fair share of such contests this year, but there's still reason to believe in San Jose this season.
Even ignoring that San Jose has played much of this season without Logan Couture, the Sharks' possession numbers have been promising. San Jose is tenth in the NHL in fenwick-for percentage (even strength, score adjusted) and is eleventh in scoring chance percentage (same parameters).
The Sharks two biggest problems after 37 games are injuries and goaltending. One is dependent almost solely on luck, while the other is...only mostly dependent on luck. Martin Jones has struggled after bursting on to the scene with San Jose, but if he can put together league average goaltending for the rest of the season, the Sharks will be okay. Of slightly less concern is the Sharks backup goaltending.
San Jose currently sits 29th in the NHL in even strength save percentage with only Carolina posting a worse mark. Part of that lays on the shoulders of Jones, but there's blame to be put at the feet of Alex Stalock as well, who has now been sent down to the Barracuda. Troy Grosenick was called up in relief, but his .902 save percentage in 16 AHL games this year doesn't inspire confidence.
Working in the Sharks' favor, other than good possession numbers, is the weakness of the Pacific Division. Yes, the Sharks currently are on the outside looking in of the playoff picture, but other than the Ducks and Kings the entire division is a garbage fire. Of course with the margins this close, the Sharks being a better team than their opponents doesn't guarantee anything (god knows we've seen this movie before) but I much prefer this year's version of events to last years. If the Sharks miss the playoffs, it'll likely have more to do with poor fortune than it will with poor play — the opposite of last year's poor campaign.
The Sharks made three big moves during the offseason. We've touched on Jones already, so let's shift over to the other Martin. Paul Martin has played well for the Sharks, posting a 1.74 relative fenwick for percentage this season and more or less effectively baby sitting Brent Burns. He's missed a few games due to injury, but when on the ice Martin has been as quietly effective as expected.
Joel Ward's exciting play certainly isn't quiet. He has a 0.78 FF-rel% and 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) and has been a dynamite addition to the second line for San Jose. He's a blast to watch play and has provided some depth scoring while also driving possession.
As a staff we picked the Sharks to finish third in the Pacific, behind the Kings and the Ducks. I still feel good about that pick. The Sharks certainly won't be cup favorites, but they're certainly a playoff team — something that wasn't true last year. With some nice additions to the core, San Jose just needs to stay healthy and get some decent goaltending to have a shot to make a playoff run. It won't always be fun, but it's not time to write this team off.