Quick Bites: Sharks top Ducks as shot differential mounts

Continued shot domination pays off in Southern California.

Timo Meier scored two goals, Erik Karlsson connected pass after pass and San Jose beat Anaheim 4-3 in overtime in the Honda Center. For the Ducks, Ryan Getzlaf’s assists were full of substance, as his line easily outperformed any other unit in this Ducks lineup. The Sharks, as they are wont to do this season, created an insurmountable shot advantage, continuing in the fashion that they wore so regularly before the trip to Carolina.

When San Jose skated into the locker room for the first intermission, the team had taken 69 percent of all 5-on-5 shots (when adjusted for the score and venue) but had just a 1-1 tie on the scoreboard to show for them. In the second period, the Sharks took just 61 percent of 5-on-5 score- and venue-adjusted shots. In the third, that number dwindled to just 55 percent. To be clear, a 55-percent shot share is phenomenal. The point is that the team visibly allowed Anaheim back into the game, even if just on relative terms.

The Ducks’ answering calls late in the second and mid-way through the third period were no accidents, at least insofar as they came with the Sharks backing down ever so slightly. Pontus Aberg stripped Kevin Labanc of the puck in the neutral zone before dangling Joakim Ryan and putting it past Jones for one goal. That’s the kind of play people pay to see, and there was nothing the Sharks could do about it. The other, well, Martin Jones is likely still shaking his head about.

When all was said and done, the Sharks stood atop 60 percent of all 5-on-5 shots, 60 percent of all 5-on-5 expected goals, and 62 percent of all 5-on-5 scoring chances. Despite the clear advantage, the biggest hole in San Jose’s play so far this season appeared yet again.

Though the team generated the vast majority of chances, they still allowed plenty of their own. Two of the Ducks goals were scored on shots down where the forwards make their money. Usually a big-enough differential does the trick, but if the Sharks can figure out how to allow fewer chances, they should really be able to dominate on the scoreboard, too.

The Sharks should thank Erik Karlsson as much as they should praise Timo Meier. Karlsson and partner Brenden Dillon helped the sharks control 80 percent of all 5-on-5 score- and venue-adjusted shots when they were on the ice together. Rourke Chartier followed behind them with 68 percent of all shots, an impressive figure to go with his first NHL goal and an already-oversubscribed season. The reunited Braun and Vlasic pair enjoyed an expected goal advantage over their charges, the Getzlaf line, while helping their team take 70 percent of adjusted, 5-on-5 shots. It was Karlsson and his zig-zagging passes and swift stick handling who stole the show last night, however. He was the unquestioned engine behind their win, and provided an answer that hints at what more is to come.

Interviewed after the game, Karlsson mentioned how the team had taken its foot off the gas in recent games. He said they would have to “go home and work on that.” If there were ever a time to talk about intangibles, perhaps now might be it. The all-world defender seems intent to ensure the Sharks never give up another lead.

A few things, beyond Karlsson’s moxie, are crystallizing at this point in the season. Rourke Chartier should remain in the lineup as the fourth-line center until further notice. With him on the ice at 5-on-5 this season, the Sharks have taken 60 percent of adjusted shots. Chartier centering Barclay Goodrow and Dylan Gambrell seems like it could work, at least in theory. But DeBoer is unlikely to replace Melker Karlsson in the lineup any time soon. It’s not a dire need in any case, not at least until that shot differential breaks hard in the other direction.

On the other side of the ice, the Sharks must untwist defense pairs. After the game, DeBoer mentioned that he plans to change defense pairs depending on the situation, a thoughtful strategy. However, he seemed insistent that Erik Karlsson and Brenden Dillon remain partners otherwise. Against a bad team like Anaheim, even a suboptimal lineup can earn two points. As we saw with Carolina, however, a better team can expose the Sharks’ defense structure when built as it was last night.

It has been just two games, so there is a chance the new defense pairs figure things out. It’s just that the initial decision to make those changes seems like an attempt to fix something that was never broken.

Martin Jones continued his slow start to the season, saving just 90 percent of all shots he faced. We might expect an average goalie to have posted a 91.1 percent save percentage on those same shots. The difference in save percentage amounted to one third of a goal saved below average. To use an in-game event analog: he’d like the first Aberg goal back. John Gibson lived up to his billing as the league’s best goaltender, at least currently. Had an average goalie played in his stead tonight, the Sharks likely would have scored another goal, at least. Gibson continues to win Anaheim undeserved points.

The Sharks avalanche of shots continues unabated. The torrent of rubber is propelled by Timo Meier, Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and Antti Suomela, who help the Sharks take dangerous shots at a pace that far exceeds league average. The offense is nearly untouchable, the defense needs work, and the goaltending a bit more. Despite the fact they played well tonight, the new defense pairs are most likely still a weak link. The team must hope they figure this out sooner rather than later.