Player Power Rankings, Week 7: Tomas Pit

Get it? Like Mosh pit? This is like the seventh Hertl pun I’ve had to come up with this year, so he either needs to play worse or I need to get a thesaurus.

Welcome to Fear the Fin’s weekly(ish) Player Power Rankings! Everybody likes arbitrary rankings, if for no other reason than to argue with them. Therefore, the best rankings there are are the worst rankings, and by that metric, ours are the very best on the internet. Enjoy our very good / very bad rankings!

Two weeks ago, we noted, with desperation in our hearts, that the San Jose Sharks were a six-game winning streak away from .500. Six games and 12 points later, there’s a sense of optimism around the San Jose fanbase that the team is turning things around and that the best of the season has yet to come. For a beautiful and fleeting moment this weekend, the Sharks even passed the strangely incompetent Vegas Golden Knights in the Pacific Division standings, until the Knights obliterated the Calgary Flames on Sunday and bounced back up to fourth.

In a way, that illustrates both how difficult it is to climb the standings after a rough stretch, and how easy it is to hold on to a high position despite bad play. The Knights have been awful lately, 3-7 in their last 10, but since three of those losses went to extra time, it just took one solid win to bounce them up three spots. The Sharks, on the other hand, needed six wins in a row just to get from eighth to sixth for one day.

The moral victory here is that the Sharks’ loser-point-laden-modern-NHL .500 is as close to actual-wins-and-losses .500 as anyone else in the division. Of 22 teams with more points than San Jose in the NHL standings, just three have as few loser points (one) as the Sharks do, so if they can force more of their losses to overtime over the coming months, the odds that the Sharks make up more ground than the teams around them are a bit better, right? Probably not: expecting bad luck to precede good luck is some classic gambler’s fallacy nonsense, but we can expect the Sharks to pull out more that one loser point for every 11 losses just as a factor of regression to the mean.

All things considered, the Sharks’ six-game (and running) winning streak was just enough to get them back to the pack of teams clustered around the Western Conference’s second wild card spot. San Jose is just two points away from a playoff berth — the problem is that there are five teams in the intervening space. Over the course of the rest of November, the Sharks have five inter-division games, three of which are against teams ahead of them in the standings, starting tonight with a home game hosting the Edmonton Oilers. What is the rest of the division likely to look like on Thursday, when the Knights come to town for what could be one of the more important proverbial four-point games of the young season?

With Anaheim Ducks’ loss to the Washington Capitals, and the Arizona Coyotes’ trouncing of the Los Angeles Kings, things are looking okay for our boys. Other than those Ducks, all of the teams between San Jose and the wild card spot are active tonight, and again on Thursday. There’s potential for the Sharks to fall four points further back of the pack, to end Thursday night in third in the division, or anything in between.

So far, the Sharks have obliterated November and its soft opponents and four-point games. They’ve gotten back up to .500, but that won’t be enough. Even point production in the standings is a useful stepping stone back to respectability, but it doesn’t mean as much as it might seem at first glance. Over the past five seasons, just under 29 percent of teams finished the season with 82 points or fewer, meaning .500 is more an indicator of the bottom third of the league than it is the bottom half. San Jose still has two games against the only team below them in the division (Los Angeles) and two more against similarly points-deprived squads in Vegas and the Winnipeg Jets.

The rest of this month is vital for the Sharks to stay in the race and, so far, there are more than a few indications that they can pull it off. Here’s five of them.

1. Tomas Hertl

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week330332651.98

Last week: 1

Tomas Hertl must have gotten sick of losing because, save for a less than ideal performance on Saturday against the visiting Red Wings likely due to playing at less than 100 percent, he’s doing all of the work during the Sharks’ active season-long winning streak. Hertl’s silence on Saturday ended a few streaks of his own, including a five-game point streak at nine, and a franchise record tying five-game goal streak at six. The good Czech boy now leads the team in points (tied with Logan Couture, but with more goals), and his line with mates Barclay Goodrow and Timo Meier has powered the team in the offensive zone more often than not.

What a shot! To get to that soft area, Hertl took advantage of both lackluster coverage by Ondrej Kase up high, and a bit of puck-watching hypnosis on the part of Cam Fowler down low. Hertl then took advantage of the time he has to settle a pass from Timo Meier below the goal line, and used Fowler as a bit of a screen to get the puck past goaltender and American Hero John Gibson. That’s what happened, but with shot placement like that, any number of events could have preceded it and it probably wouldn’t have mattered. If there is a goalie in the world who can stop a shot so perfectly placed just under the blocker side corner, I haven’t seen them yet.

2. Logan Couture

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week330332668.92

Last week: 5

The Sharks’ captain is finally heating up after a pretty rough October, which seems reasonable since that phrase would work just as well without the word “captain” in it. With seven points in three games, including three against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, Couture may be the hottest player on the team, and his place atop the Sharks in scoring bears that out (again, tied with Hertl). While Couture’s goal totals may still be troubling, even to him, he’s ameliorated that concern somewhat by leading the team in both assists and primary assists.

This entire play was brought about by a Kevin Labanc steal at the offensive blue line, but watch how Couture reacts to it. Anthony Mantha made an ill-advised (a generous term) pass to Dylan Larkin (?) for a break out that went right to Labanc, and Couture was already on his way out of the zone with speed to cover the break out. The captain was able to stop up and get just enough distance from Jonathan Ericsson to feather a beautiful pass over two Red Wings sticks to the opposite point, where Marc-Edouard Vlasic was just re-entering the zone. The cliche about taking a hit to make a play was never more true than it was for this pass, because poor Logan was dropped on his derriere by Ericsson immediately. It was probably worth it to him, though.

3. Kevin Labanc

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week3123221173.36

Kevin Labanc is one of the best examples on this Sharks team of the different conclusions we can draw based on reading data versus watching play. Labanc’s defensive miscues and missed assignments in the defensive zone over the first few weeks of the San Jose season likely stick in the mind (they stick in mine, yuck), but a closer look at the data shows that he’s been one of the team’s best forwards overall. Aided by a goal and a half (shootout goals are silly, but very cool) in Saturday night’s nail biter against the Wings, Labanc currently leads all Sharks skaters with more than three games played in shot attempt share and expected goals share at 5-on-5, and his expected goals against per 60 minutes played is third lowest. If this is a one-dimensional player, that dimension is “playing good hockey.”

While this may not be the most technically impressive thing that Labanc did during a game in which he dominated, and there may be more insight that can be gleaned from his goal during regulation time or his many other chances, none of them are this goddamn cool. Labanc slowed up on his way toward the net, which did some of the deceptive workload, but more of it was done with that shot fake. Jimmy Howard was forced to drop his right pad down to respect Labanc’s fake toward the five-hole, meaning he couldn’t create enough grip on the skate to push to his left to stop the actual shot. Ah, screw it, just watch it again, it’s awesome.

4. Erik Karlsson

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week314530447.02

Last week: 4

With five points in three games this week, including three assists against Edmonton on Tuesday, Erik Karlsson sits fourth on the team in scoring, and third in points per game. With the information our colleague Sheng Peng gleaned from his very smart doctor friend earlier this week, it stands to reason that Karlsson will only continue to improve his skating as the season wears on. That should be pretty scary for the rest of the NHL, as the sweet Swede already boasts the team’s second best shot-attempt share among defensemen, and has been doing it in a responsible way: Karlsson has recorded the third lowest penalty minutes per 60 minutes played among skaters with more than seven games played. He’s good now, but he’s getting better and will likely be great soon enough.

One of the ways I’m justifying using a shootout goal for Labanc’s entry is by taking over other entries to talk about other things he did. Between that and Karlsson’s skating, we may not even get to the shot. Labanc moved in toward the slot with the puck, drawing the attention of both Frans Nielsen up high and Dylan McIlrath closer to the crease. His beautiful no look backhand pass back to Karlsson at the blue line caught both Wings by surprise, but let’s backtrack a bit to Karlsson’s fancy footwork. Watch how the defender walked the line laterally to keep all of his options open, and then turned his left foot out to swoop it around in a gorgeous mid-pass mohawk turn to open his body up to Labanc (please don’t quote that last bit out of context). That maneuver also served to draw Karlsson lower into the zone and further away from Nielsen, who had to respect Labanc’s shooting threat. By the time Karlsson got the puck back, he had a much clearer shot at the net, and the man can certainly shoot, even if he hasn’t done it as much as we might like as of late.

5. Barclay Goodrow

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week312325660.19

Barclay Goodrow recorded his first ever Gordie Howe hat trick (a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game) on Tuesday night, partially by sticking up for Hertl against a very angry Brandon Manning, which made him the favorite active Shark of most of SAP Center, and probably got him a post-game beer from Connor McDavid. If that were all Goodrow did this week, he’d probably still be here in the mentions, but there’s more. Goodrow’s promotion to a top-six role with linemates Hertl and Meier did wonders for both his production and his metrics, but they were already pretty good. The man named after a fictional hedge fund management firm was the only Shark this week to rank in the bottom five in offensive zone start percentage and the top five in shot attempt share at 5-on-5. His production has been pretty good so far this season overall, too: if you told me that on this date there would be ten Sharks players with double digit points and asked me to guess them, well, let’s just say it would be more than ten before I got to Barclay Goodrow, and I would be wrong. Also, Goodrow and Evander Kane are the only members of that group with one or fewer secondary assists. He’s good, I guess, is what I’m saying.

This goal itself was not particularly pretty, but it exemplifies what a player like Goodrow can bring to a high skill line when all of the parts are working together. Goodrow started this play below the goal line, going into the corner after a loose puck with McDavid and Ethan Bear. After he outplayed the body against the smaller and less experienced Bear (please don’t quote that out of context), he sent the puck out into dangerous territory along the wall. When high skill players like Meier and Hertl can create chemistry with a grinder-with-enough-skill like Goodrow, this kind of communication can lead to really dangerous chances like this one.

Hono(u)rable mentions

Evander Kane: Kane’s production has been insane, and it was tough to leave him off the list this week, but we felt we had to take the opportunity to give some love to Goodrow, and Kane will be featured here often enough as he continues to produce. For a fun stat, Kane’s goal in Anaheim on Thursday was the first short-handed, game-winning, third period, road goal since Curtis Brown scored one on October 13, 2006. What do you mean that’s stupid?

Timo Meier: It may seem strange to have more than one honorable mention that’s actually an honorable mention and not just an excuse to talk about something else, but here we are. Before a bit of a snoozer against Detroit that ended up being the tie-breaker to get him out of the top five, Meier had three goals and nine points in a five game streak. If he can turn it back on again, and Couture can continue his torrid pace, the Sharks will have two really dangerous scoring lines for what might be the first time all year.

Dalton Prout: Let’s get the obvious part out of the way, Dalton Prout is not very good by NHL standards. He is, however, a person, and the way his season has gone so far is a real drag. Prout seems to be a relic from an era that’s clearly not quite over yet, and his pugnacity is valued by this coaching staff. With that in mind, his decision to fight Nicolas Deslauriers on Thursday makes a little more sense, but with his concussion history, a move back onto the injured reserve could be really serious. As glad as we are to see Mario Ferraro healthy and in the lineup, we never cheer injury, and hope that Prout can make a full recovery and that his concussion days are truly as behind them as they can realistically be.

Erik Johnson: In case you missed this one:

There has been a bit of hesitancy to criticize the on-ice officials for letting play go on as long as it did, with even Nathan MacKinnon saying, “it’s not the refs’ fault, it’s the league rule,” but that doesn’t go far enough. The rule clearly states that “In the case where it is obvious that a player has sustained a serious injury, the Referee and/or Linesman may stop the play immediately.” There is no repercussion to the officials for stopping the play inappropriately, so why not err on the side of caution when Matt Calvert is lying on the ice and bleeding from his head? The on-ice officials are absolutely at fault here, rules or not: that is a human being in serious distress and they had the power to protect him and chose not to use it.

What does that have to do with Erik Johnson? He didn’t pull his proverbial punches: “Like, you want to protect a guy? The guy’s got a family at home. He’s laying there bleeding out of his head and they don’t blow the fucking whistle? It’s a complete joke. It’s an absolute joke, and they should be ashamed of themselves.”

Well said, Erik.