Quick bites: Sharks offense continues reunion tour in fourth straight win

The Sharks are back.

Connor McDavid jogged down the tunnel under SAP Center with one shot on goal and one secondary assist to his name. He was also credited with three scoring chances in his 18 minutes of ice time. McDavid spent 8:52 of his 13:52 total 5-on-5 ice time lined up opposite Erik Karlsson. During those nearly-nine minutes, the Oilers outshot San Jose 8-2. Those eight shots turned into just three shots on goal, though they were dangerous. With a total expected goals value of 0.46, you’d expect that Oilers output to produce a goal nearly half the time.

In a game where the other San Jose defense pairs were on the ice for upwards of 30 total 5-on-5 shots, the fact Karlsson and partner Marc-Edouard Vlasic played snail-paced hockey (they were on the ice together for just 12 total shots in 11:37 of 5-on-5 ice time) was beneficial for the team’s chances against someone like McDavid. If the goal of tonight’s game was to slow him down, the Sharks succeeded.

The Sharks may not have been perfect against the Edmonton captain, and Erik Karlsson himself certainly wasn’t, but they mostly made McDavid a non-factor, and that was good enough.

As a team, San Jose jumped out to an early first period lead. The goals they scored, like Brent Burns’ upper-90 iron tickler, were difficult to blame on Edmonton goaltender Mike Smith. However, on many nights, a first period that was so even in shot- and scoring likelihood-differential would have been closer on the scoreboard.

At a glance, the game in its entirety at 5-on-5, was fairly even. After taking the score into account, one would have expected a much higher volume of shots from the visitors. By not succumbing to the effects of having a big early lead, the Sharks owned the game more than a first glance at the spreadsheet would lead one to believe.

Though San Jose mostly kept the Oilers’ best players from making a big impact on the game, the home team allowed its share of frightening moments from other parts of the Edmonton lineup. The unblocked and rush and rebound shots the Oilers produced were much more likely to be goals than those of the Sharks. Edmonton finished the evening with nearly 60 percent of all 5-on-5 expected goals, a figure that doesn’t change a whole lot when adjusting for the score.

The Edmonton special teams units lived up to their billings — at least one of them did, anyway. San Jose circled the zone with pass after pass, scanning for weaknesses in the Oil penalty kill. All they had to show for the offensive zone time were just four unblocked shots that, when measured against previous shots from their locations, produce a goal about 40 percent of the time. San Jose’s penalty kill did its job, allowing just three unblocked shots, any one of which would have required an act of McDavid to turn into a goal.

We saw some recurring themes emerge from this mess of probabilities. Martin Jones continued to be Martin Jones. It’s hard to pin the tic-tac-toe Zack Kassian goal on him, sprawling as he was just to try to make a save. But then future Sharks trade deadline acquisition Sam Gagner banked a puck off Jones’ backside for a goal, reminding us that the more things change ... well. To Jones’ credit, he allowed three goals all night on shots that produced 2.94 expected goals. He was more average than awful despite the optics.

I’m not sure what the optics said about the team defense, but it sure wasn’t great.

If the defense didn’t look great, the offense sure did. The team’s rate of nearly 2.3 expected goals per hour would pace for 12th in the league this season. That’s a sure-fire improvement from the abomination they iced during the season’s first chunk of games. Leading the way for the team there was the third pair of Brenden Dillon and Tim Heed, and the first line of Logan Couture, Evander Kane and Kevin Labanc. Those five players were on the ice for nearly one unblocked shot every minute of 5-on-5 ice time. As a result, each of those players was on the ice for at least one Sharks goal.

At the bottom of the lineup, a familiar narrative continued its course. Dylan Gambrell spent most of his time on the ice with Patrick Russell (who?) and Gagner. In those five minutes, the Sharks took just one shot on goal and allowed five, along with two goals. It’s a wonder the coaching staff hasn’t tried Lukas Radil, who is consistent at least defensively, or Jonny Brodzinski, who played well offensively when called upon, in place of Melker Karlsson. But this coaching staff refuses to budge from its fourth-line mainstay for whatever reason.

Come hell or high water, Melker Karlsson will be there, skating along two poor saps on the team’s weakest unit, just waiting for his chance at a merit-less promotion on an off night.

These individual puzzle pieces fit nicely together for a picture we’ve seen before. This is very much last year’s team still, albeit without as many play drivers up front. Even if the defense will forever remain a work in progress, the offense has figured out how to string together passes again, an important fact if goaltending continues the way it has for the last calendar year. Last night’s game mostly reinforced the fact the Sharks are now capable of beating up on bad teams again. Harsher tests will soon confront this team next week. Until then, San Jose will be happy with its fourth-straight win and more points on the season ledger.

(Data herein from Natural Stat Trick)