Playoff Power Rankings Week 4: Logan Lucky

If the Sharks go much deeper, I’m going to run out of movies with the word Logan in the title. I probably already have.

Welcome to Fear the Fin’s weekly(ish) player power rankings. Who had the biggest impact, the best goals or the prettiest smile in the week that was and who you should totally grab off of waivers in your fantasy league to stick it to Derek in accounts receivable. All rankings subject to the whims of fate and whatever we’re feeling in the moment, postseason power rankings are prone to being particularly mercurial.

As I’m sure we all anticipated heading into this season back in October, the Carolina Hurricanes have swept the New York Islanders out of the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. While the Hurricanes’ success shouldn’t be terribly shocking to any one who follows hockey’s advanced analytics movement, the fact that they swept the team that swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round is a surprise. While the Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets soldier on with their Game 6 tonight, the Sharks can secure half of the wins required for that most beautiful of Cups, that belonging to Lord Stanley himself.

With just seven teams left in the running, it falls to us to try to pinpoint exactly what the Sharks will have to do to break through in the back half of this brutal escapade, and how to most effectively neutralize opponents’ biggest threats. Luckily, we here at Fear the Fin have compiled an exhaustive and well tested list for fans and players alike to consult to guarantee success, team by team, starting tonight.

Colorado Avalanche: The Sharks’ advantage to exploit over the Avalanche is and has been their depth. Once Nathan MacKinnon and his cronies are off the ice, the Sharks can overpower the Avalanche with skill and offensive explosiveness. That hasn’t seemed the case recently in the series, with San Jose totaling just two goals over the last two games, but perhaps the problem is that they aren’t relying on their depth enough. In Game 6, San Jose should play a full roster of San Jose Barracuda players, overwhelming Colorado with scoring down the lineup, and stop worrying so much about the top talent.

Dallas Stars: If the Stars win tomorrow night, they’ll match up against Sharks in round three, probably starting later this week in San Jose. The Stars’ most dangerous weapon, both in the playoffs and throughout the regular season, has been the dominant play of goaltender Benjamin “been jammin’” Bishop. At 6-foot-7, Bishop towers over the crease, using his superior wingspan and sharp talons to rend the flesh of opposing forwards. The Sharks can counter this behemoth by deploying their smallest forwards against him, who should be able to skate underneath his legs and score with relative ease.

St. Louis Blues: On the other hand, a Blues victory tomorrow would present the Sharks with a more difficult match up. Strong up and down the lineup at forward, defense and in goal with Calder trophy nominee Jordan Binnington, St. Louis took the NHL by storm starting in early January, and posted the best record in the league during that span to go from last place in the NHL to third place in the Central division by season’s end. Since Sharks owner Hasso Plattner is one of the founders of SAP, he likely has some contacts in the cyber security world, and should contact them about perhaps infiltrating the Blues organization and setting all of their calendars to November. Phones, computers, hanging wall calendars, Craig Berube’s fight of the day desk calendar, the whole thing; it’s foolproof.

Boston Bruins: A Boston win tonight will set them up to play the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference final, and most measurements at the end of the regular season had the Bruins as perhaps the second or third best team in the entire NHL. Most of those measurements also had the Tampa Bay Lightning as the best, so what does that matter in this topsy turvy world? Still, the Bruins are formidable, and whoever plays them will have to contend with one of the best lines in hockey over the past few seasons in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak. Still, we have a plan to eliminate a full third of that dangerous crew: in Game 1, the Sharks will ice identical replicas of their top line, made entirely of industrial grade steel, frozen solid. These immobile golems will be admittedly less effective at stopping rushes or creating scoring chances, but as soon as Marchand runs into one, he will be overcome with the urge to lick it. His tongue will be stuck to it, and he’ll have to play the rest of the series dragging around a giant metal Timo Meier by his face, crippling his production.

Carolina Hurricanes: This bunch of jerks is just four wins away from the Stanley Cup Final already, and by now the first key should be obvious: never take this team to Game 7. Not only did they bring back Justin Williams, who has played in nine Games 7 and won eight of them, but then they made him captain, which can only enhance his powers. So, should the Sharks meet the Hurricanes in the final, psychological warfare will be the key, meaning only one thing: that’s right, Whalers jerseys. If the Sharks play every game wearing the heralded green of the Whale itself, skating to the dulcet tones of Brass Bonanza over the SAP Center speakers, the ‘Canes players will be disoriented, and will skate about in aimless circles, scoring pell-mell on whatever goal happens to appear in front of their dazed visages. The games will be chaos, only fitting in this wacko postseason, and victory will be all but guaranteed.

Columbus Blue Jackets: We’ll just have Sheng ask John Tortorella an uncomfortable question before the game, and see how they play with no coach.

Well, we did it, friends. The Sharks front office and coaching staff, who all doubtless read every word we post on this little blog, should feel free to utilize any and all of these strategies immediately and have their people contact my people for what I can only assume is an imminent job offer.

1. Logan Couture

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week3314421155.23

Last week: 3

Since the injury that knocked captain Joe Pavelski out of the Sharks’ lineup, Logan Couture has picked up the mantle of the leader and run with it. Since that very moment in fact, as Couture started San Jose’s insane rally in Game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights with the first and third of four goals on one penalty call. Couture is continuing his heroic ways well into round two, including a hat trick in Game 3. As of today, Couture’s nine goals in the postseason lead all NHL skaters, and has recorded nine points in his last seven games. If his ice time allocation is any indicator, he’ll continue carrying the team, as the 24:42 he skated in Game 5 was the most for Couture in any regulation length game so far in the 2018-19 season.

The second of Couture’s three goals in Game 3 was a familiar move to those of us who have watched him all postseason and came in dramatic fashion. We saw him use this move a few times in round one to beat Marc-Andre Fleury and it appears to be effective against Philipp Grubauer, as well. Couture faked a shot to his left (against Fleury, it was often a short side fake, as Couture approached the goal from the left. Here it’s a far side fake, as he’s on the right side of the ice) to pull Grubauer off the pipe, and then blasted a shot short side into the opening he created. It’s classic Couture and it works 60 percent of the time, every time.

2. Tomas Hertl

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week3202201259.22

Last week: 4

We could just as easily have put Couture and Tomas Hertl as ties for first in this week’s rankings, but that would be cheating, and if there’s anything we take seriously in life, it’s this column. So the fact that Hertl scored both Sharks goals in Saturday’s Game 5 at home is worth quite a bit, and the fact that he sits second in goal scoring in the NHL (tied with St. Louis’ Jaden Schwartz) is worth even more, but there are concerns about what he’ll bring to the table for Game 6. Of Hertl’s 12 playoff points, 11 were scored in six home games, meaning he’s recorded just one point in five road games this postseason. He’ll need to step up to the plate tonight if the Sharks want the extra few hours of rest a win will get them.

This play was pretty much chaos. After Brent Burns’ rocket of a shot, Evander Kane brought the puck back up to Joonas Donskoi, whose bobbing and weaving around Colorado defender Samuel Girard is commendable. Donskoi’s pass to a clearly unsuspecting Marc-Edouard Vlasic seemed enough to not only fool the stalwart rearguard, but most of the Avs’ defense as well, and Vlasic’s presence of mind to pivot and fire the shot on net froze Grubauer, freeing Hertl up to cash in on the rebound.

3. Martin Jones

TimeGames PlayedRecordShots AgainstGoals AllowedSv%GAA5v5 Sv%HDSv%5v5 GSAA
This Week32-1765.9341.69.938.8280.74

After some truly shaky play in round one, Martin Jones seems to have found his form in round two, particularly in Game 4. Unfortunately, it seemed that no one else on the team could find their form during that same game, and Jones’ effort, and his 2.4 goals saved above expected, went largely to waste in one of the team’s more disappointing postseason losses. Jones was solid again in Game 5 though, allowing just one goal on 22 Avalanche shots (their lowest total in the playoffs to date) to secure the 2-1 win. We’ve often said that Jones just needs to be average to give the team a chance to win every night and he’s been better than average this round.

Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon are two of Colorado’s most potent weapons and Jones stopped both of them more than a few times during Game 4 in Denver. Makar’s creative use of the end boards and MacKinnon’s power and persistence down low made for an excellent scoring chance here, but Jones was just quick enough to cover his left post before MacK got the puck to it. When Jones is at his best, his movements are static, controlled and unremarkable, which makes saves like this one look almost routine. Don’t be fooled. They are not. They are quite good. Keep up the good work.

4. Marc-Edouard Vlasic

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week301110654.9

Vlasic’s style and role mean that he rarely finds his way to highlight reels but, after a season that could be called a step back for the defender, he’s returning to his shut down self in this series. Tasked with shutting down offense from (who else) MacKinnon and co., Vlasic was absurdly effective in Game 5, keeping MacK and his linemates, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, to just five shots on goal at 5-on-5 total. The trio combined for nine shots on goal at 5-on-5 in Game 4. During San Jose’s Cup run in 2016, Vlasic was referred to as an invisibility cloak, as he was tossed over the boards against the opposing teams’ top offensive stars — Anze Kopitar, Filip Forsberg, Vladimir Tarasenko — and made their offense disappear.

Vlasic’s ability to shut down offense aside, he can contribute on the positive side of the goal count as well. Not content to leave the long bomb outlet passes to Burns and Erik Karlsson, Vlasic tried on on for size himself in Game 5, and thanks in no small part to the inhibitory efforts of Gustav Nyquist, got Couture a breakaway and a scoring chance early in the third period of a tie game.

5. Gustav Nyquist

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
Season (DET, SJS)81223860411220452.44
This week302210551.58

The Goose is not quite as loose yet as we may like him to be, but Nyquist is playing with all of the effort and verve of a player just on the verge of a scoring breakout. With two assists in Game 3, Nyquist is hardly resting on his laurels, but he looks dangerous on each shift, and it seems like it’s only a matter of time before he breaks through Grubauer and finally gets a couple of playoff goals in teal.

There’s almost the sense that Nyquist is gripping the stick a little too tightly, if you’ll pardon a turn of phrase, and that a simpler move may have had more success here, but the way that Grubauer has been playing, over complicating scoring plays can be forgiven. Nyquist’s move would have torn most of us in half, but Grubauer was up to the task, even after biting on the backhand fake with a missed poke check. As long as Nyquist keeps getting looks like this, Grubauer can’t possibly stop all of them. Can he?

Hono(u)rable mentions

Joe Pavelski: After a heartwarming appearance at home during Game 5, riling up the crowd as only the captain can, Pavelski will travel with the team to Denver for Game 6. Any hopes of his drawing into the lineup have to be seen as premature, but having the captain in the room always helps.

Timo Meier: Similarly to Nyquist, Meier is getting a lot of great looks, but had to be left off of the rankings proper due to that supreme bummer of a high stick infraction in Game 5. It was hardly Meier’s fault, his stick was clearly lifted into Rantanen by Tyson Barrie, but if he were a little heavier on it, the Sharks may have skated with a lead for a good long time.

Joakim Ryan: Finally finding his way through the labyrinthine passages of head coach Peter DeBoer’s dog house, Ryan has been excellent for the Sharks in this second round. Posting the team’s best shot attempt share at 5-on-5 this week, Ryan is showcasing some of the defensive responsibility that had been lacking during the regular season, and helping us all cope with the loss of Radim Simek.