Player Power Rankings, Week 3: Hats off at the door

Alternately: Citizen Kane, Martin-izing fabrics, Barclay Greatrow

The Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres are division leaders. The Tampa Bay Lightning, San Jose Sharks, and Dallas Stars are all out of playoff position. While the “it’s still early” disclaimer seems to have fallen out of favor as the season enters its fourth week, it is still pretty early, and most teams whose names don’t rhyme with Bottawa Benators can still turn around a good or bad start. Generally, it’s dangerous to start declaring what a team is before they’ve played ten games; sometimes they have to play 20, or 30, but who has that kind of time?

In that spirit, next week we’ll take a closer look at how the standings are shaking out. By that time, every team in the NHL will have played at least ten games, except for the New York Rangers, who will have played nine, slackers. Until then, let’s take a look back on the Sharks’ two-game week, and dig in on one of it’s most pertinent story lines: that’s right, let’s talk about officiating.

For those of you still reading, thank you both, and to those who aren’t, I understand. I’m sure that the mention of officiating in a Sharks blog in 2019 likely conjures up images in the minds of Sharks fans of Alex Pietrangelo on Joe Pavelski, Sammy Blais on Justin Braun, Ivan Barbashev on Tomas Hertl, and David Perron on errant pucks, and in the minds of all other fans it elicits images of accidental cross-checks leading to five minute power plays, lazy line changes called as off side, blatant hand passes, and only the purest and sourest of grapes.

This week, though, the Sharks found themselves on the wrong end of two different high stick goal reviews. One on Wednesday, when a point shot from Erik Karlsson was determined to have been touched above the crossbar by Dylan Gambrell before bouncing underneath James Reimer, and one on Saturday, in which a Henri Jokiharju point shot was determined to have been legally tipped past Martin Jones by Casey Mittelstadt.

If you want to refresh your memory / re-live your trauma, here is the Gambrell no-goal and here is the Mittelstadt tally.

Here’s the thing: when officials do a video review of a call, in order for that call to be overturned, the video must be absolutely conclusive. From those videos, I can see how either one of those calls could have gone either way, in which case, the call on the ice stands. It isn’t unreasonable to assume that the official making the initial call had a better line of sight regarding the forwards’ sticks than any of the cameras did (except for maybe the across-the-ice cam in the Buffalo game, but even that isn’t particularly convincing). The real issue arose on Saturday, when the call on the ice (goal) was overturned (no goal), then, upon further review, was re-overturned (goal). That isn’t an issue with unfair officiating, it’s an issue with unprofessional officiating. The call on the ice was officially “goal,” despite one officials prematurely amplified announcement.

Maybe this particular sermon is pointed in the wrong direction off the pulpit, but it seems like some Sharks fans may be a little quick on the trigger when it comes to booing referees. The “ref you suck” chant is a valuable tool to a fan base, and its overuse dulls its edge. Complaining about officials is one of the key things that all hockey fans have in common, and, while it’s cathartic, it may not be warranted in this particular case to the degree we might like.

That said, there seems to be some confusion regarding the purpose of rules like this one. The high touch leading to a goal and the distinct kicking motion have similar questions around them, most notably: why is this particular behavior allowed anywhere on the ice unless it leads directly to a goal (in the case of a high touch, it isn’t allowed per se, but there are contingencies in which play will not stop)?

The rationale for both rules is one of safety. For the former, sticks making contact with a puck higher than the crossbar and directing it into the goal do not count. This seems arbitrary, but the purpose is to disincentivize players from launching slap shots and waving sticks around at head height in the most crowded place on the ice. Similarly, kicking a puck is fine anywhere on the ice except for the area that is most likely to be occupied by a goaltender’s hands and face, things that can be easily damaged by shoes that have swords on them.

Among the tremendously dumb rules the NHL has in its book, holding high sticks in the crease to an objective, four foot standard to account for the difference in height between a Joe Thornton and a Conor Sheary as opposed to holding them to the shoulder height standard of a regular high touch makes sense: the crease is full of more players of varying height packed together more closely and is much more prone to attracting high velocity rubber, it isn’t crazy to take steps to minimize the amount of that rubber coming in at face height.

Essentially, it’s entirely possible that the Sharks found themselves on the brunt end of two bad high touch calls in those two games, but the rule exists for a pretty good reason, and the decisions were far from obvious. Let’s try to save our outrage for something black and white that officials never miss in a playoff game, like delay of game by shooting the puck over the — okay, maybe let’s not get into it at all.

In lighter news:

1. Evander Kane

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week3314401259.73

There was really no other option. With four points in Wednesday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Evander Kane became the first player in San Jose franchise history to record a hat trick in the first period of a game. It was Kane’s first three goal performance since March 16 of last year, when he scored four against the Flames in Calgary. Kane’s contributions with center Tomas Hertl have been hard to ignore this week, as the duo (most commonly combined with Kevin Labanc) have dominated opposing teams in the puck possession battle on the way to ranking first and second on the squad in points, goals, shots, and shot attempts. Kane also leads the team in 5-on-5 shot attempt percentage overall, though that probably has a fair amount to do with him missing the team’s first three ignominious losses while serving a suspension for abuse of officials.

Kane’s first goal of the night/period was a great example of what hanging around the front of the net in the offensive zone can do. At the very beginning of this clip, Kane was cycling around below the goal line toward the net, but, without seeing any offensive opportunities developing, he lapped again. The second time around, he saw Karlsson’s shot hit Brett Pesce and moves in. While Pesce and Hertl were looking around, Kane jumped on the loose puck and blasted it over James Reimer’s left shoulder. Because Kane was already cycling, he has more momentum than Martin Necas, apparently the only other skater with eyes on the puck. That half step made all the difference.

2. Tomas Hertl

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week222430862.22

Kane’s center is almost definitely glad to have his winger back. Hertl’s contributions go past his box scores, as they often do, as the monstrous Czech center was all over the ice in both games this week, pretty effectively shutting down both Carolina’s Jordan Staal line and Buffalo’s Marcus Johansson trio. Hertl led the team in shot attempt share, and was second only to Kane in the four counting stats mentioned above, all with only three players recording a lower offensive zone start ratio. Hertl’s six points in three games are a welcome addition to a team in dire need of good news as they fight for a .500 record in the young season. He’s good, okay?

This is a little different, but watch how Hertl adjusts this move that he tries in both games. Against Reimer, Hertl cut close enough around the net to shake off the pressure of a chasing Jake Gardiner. As a result, he was able to drive inward towards the net and try a back hand into the five hole. Against Ullmark, he took a wider turn around the net. This path, whether purposeful or not, drew defender Rasmus Dahlin out across the goal line, so Hertl spun to his right to take a shot off of the forehand. This is a move we’ve seen from Hertl more than a few times this season, curling around the net on the backhand, maybe he workshopped it in the off-season? Let me know in the comments if you’ve noticed him doing this in seasons past.

3. Martin Jones

TimeGames PlayedRecordShots AgainstGoals AllowedSv%GAA5v5 Sv%HDSv%5v5 GSAA
This Week21-1-0736.9183.05.891.833-0.10

This is really about Martin Jones’ performance against the Hurricanes, but his outing on Saturday against Buffalo was not terrible. Jones made 36 saves on 38 Carolina shots, many of which were dangerous, generated from rebounds or flurries, including 15 in a third period in which the Sharks held a strong lead and withstood a strong full court press from the visitors. Overall, Jones has been adequate this year, which is really all we were asking from him last season. More often than not, the difference between a good and bad goaltender isn’t consistency, it’s not a consistent position, but it’s the frequency of radically good and bad games. If Jones can cut down on his radically bad showings, as he has so far this season, and turn in the occasional magic show like Wednesday, the Sharks may finally be able to stop worrying about the man in the mask behind them.

There was really a lot to choose from here, as a good chunk of the ‘Canes’ 38 shots were pretty dangerous, but saves from tipped pucks are usually positional. The clip starts with a pretty routine save on Nino Niederreiter in close, but once Pesce got the puck at the point, the danger really kicked in. His point shot was tipped in the slot by Jordan Staal (not too high!), which not only changed the puck’s trajectory, but also the way it moved. Most notable is the way Jones kicked his left pad out just enough after the puck changed direction. Jones had fractions of a second to make that move, not nearly long enough to think about it, and when he’s making saves on position and instinct, he’s damn near unbeatable.

4. Logan Couture

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week202200219.77

Similarly to Jones, the team’s captain is in these rankings largely because of his performance against the Hurricanes, and not because of his getting absolutely speedbagged by Jack Eichel on Saturday. On one hand, the team’s shut down center should be able to record more than one out of every five shot attempts against the other team’s best, on the other hand, sometimes players like Eichel can just do that. Couture’s contributions to the team over the course of the full season are hard to ignore: his eight points in eight games played is tied with Brent Burns for the team lead, and without quite as many unsightly blunders, his seven points in the team’s last six games is the longest point streak on the squad, and his ability to stymie the puck possession style of the Hurricanes by winning 14 of his 18 faceoffs probably helped the team cruise through that whipping. Maybe just don’t look at the Corsi numbers. Just this once.

This didn’t end up counting as a goal, which is probably correct, but we mostly want to highlight Couture’s drop pass as he leaves the zone. Hertl got his initial look at the net and the space to make it due to Burns and Couture executing matching no look drop passes up at the point. Burns drew Erik Haula out toward the slot, and Couture drew Jaccob Slavin all the way out of the zone. These kinds of plays don’t always show up in simple metrics like shot attempt percentage, but Couture makes them all the time.

5. Barclay Goodrow

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week210112544.51

The man they call Barclay Goodrow (because that’s his name) is a real-life third line winger, and is sixth on the team in points. Playing with Joe Thornton is still a magical assignment, apparently, as Goodrow’s time on the legend’s wing has powered him to five shots in two games, fourth best on the team. While his name isn’t the first on many lips when it comes to Sharks forwards to appreciate, we like to take the time to give credit lower down the lineup when the opportunity presents itself, and Goodrow’s performance this week is indicative of an improvement in his game this season that’s hard to ignore.

Or maybe this is still holdover from Game 7. Who can truly understand the whims of the heart?

Goodrow’s goal this week was a beauty. Breaking into the zone with speed and a Marcus Sorensen by his side, Goodrow waits out the diving form of Haydn Fleury (Haydn? Seriously?) before blasting a wrist shot right between Reimer’s pad and his glove. While the addition of Patrick Marleau did a great deal to create depth down the right side for San Jose, Goodrow is delivering on that promise.

Hono(u)rable mentions

Brent Burns: While Burns is still producing to the tune of seven points in five games, his bizarre decisions in his own zone can be hard to mentally overcome sometimes. As a result, he’s spending this week in the power rankings penalty box, but he’ll probably be back up there sooner rather than later.

Erik Karlsson: Similarly, Karlsson’s five points in five games is impressive, but we’d like to see him getting them by being the slick Swede we know and love, not by stacking secondary assists on the power play. His presence on the blue line seems to really energize the team’s man advantage unit, but his giveaway late in the third on Saturday that led directly to Buffalo’s game winning goal was pretty brutal.

Matthew Tkachuk: Any enemy of Drew Doughty is a friend of mine. We’ll end on this video, because it’s the best video on the internet:

Mark Giordano: See above.