Player Power Rankings Week 9: Logan’s Heroes

The captain caps off the rankings again. He must be pretty good?

Welcome to Fear the Fin’s weekly Player Power Rankings. Every week, we pick five players to discuss, dissect, and disservice based on their contributions to the Sharks this week, this season, and over the course of their natural lives. The selection process is severe, and the criteria are many, including but not limited to on ice production, season long impact, flashy plays worth revisiting, ability to write pun-themed headlines based on their name, and height. Feel free to (dis)agree with our picks and our opinions in the comments and among friends and family at the dinner table.

After an incredibly successful November that saw the San Jose Sharks post a record of 11-4-0, the most wins in the NHL through the month and the eighth-highest point percentage (sandwiched between the Boston Bruins and the ... let’s see here, this can’t be right ... Minnesota Wild? November is wacky), they find themselves sitting uncomfortably in third place in the Pacific division, and comfortably in a playoff spot (as of Monday afternoon, the Vegas Golden Knights play the New York Rangers later tonight, which could throw a monkey into the wrench).

It comes with its share of caveats, though: the Sharks’ schedule through November was soft at best: San Jose played 11 of 15 at home (they also won 11 of 15, but all four losses were at home, so that correlation is an illusion), eight of 15 against opponents who sit outside the playoff picture, five of 15 against four of the six worst teams in the league by point percentage, and five of 15 against teams who recorded less than a .500 record in November overall. So far, the Sharks have had the second easiest schedule to the Carolina Hurricanes by estimated opponent difficulty, but going forward they have the fourth hardest.

That may be why some modern statistical models are still a little bearish on the Sharks playoff chances despite their current standing: Dom Luszczyszyn (yes, I copied and pasted his name, sorry, Dom) of The Athletic has the Sharks at 38 percent to make the post-season, Micah Blake McCurdy of HockeyViz is even less optimistic, calculating just a 30 percent chance. Other models are similarly pessimistic and, after seeing the road the Sharks have ahead of them, it’s easier to understand why, even after their November dominance.

To that end, there are a handful of dates on the NHL calendar that elicit a mad dash for the standings page, and one of those is Thanksgiving (known as American Thanksgiving up in America’s hat). It seems silly, and it kind of is, but the arbitrary nature of the deadline doesn’t make its correlations any less interesting. This year, Thanksgiving morning lined up with the eight week mark of the regular season almost exactly (the season started on a Wednesday, so it’s one day off); it doesn’t always, but it’s consistently pretty close. In a season with about 26.5 weeks, the gluttonous holiday marks almost a third of the campaign’s total. Indeed, the average team has played 26.96 games to this point, which is 32.8 percent of the 82 of a full schedule (closer to the actual third than a calendar analysis would suggest because there’s an all-star week and a bye week yet to come).

Since the 2013-14 season, 96 teams have made the postseason (that’s your good maths boy at work here), 74 of those teams were in playoff position at this point of the season, about 77 percent. Conversely, 22 were not, meaning that, historically, teams that are not in a playoff spot the morning of Thanksgiving day had just a 23 percent chance to have made the playoffs (The phrase “have made” is important here, since we should always keep in mind that analyses like these are descriptive and, while they have some measure of predictive power, do not mean that every team outside of their conference’s wild card spot have an equal 23 percent chance to turn it around. It’s an instructive exercise, but not without its own limitations).

As of Thanksgiving morning, the Sharks had not yet gotten their collective butts kicked by the visiting Winnipeg Jets, and sat rather precariously in fifth place in the Pacific Division and tenth place in the Western Conference. Maybe we should expand our net (metaphorically. Not the actual net, that’s terrifying).

Luckily, there is another method of looking at these same data that have been instructive: since that 2013-14 season, adding teams within four points of a playoff spot to the above group makes it so that we’re looking at a sample of 92 of the 96 playoff teams, or 95.8 percent. At 27 points on that fateful morning, the Sharks were just one point out of position, and fall into this category. What makes this interesting, though, is the impact of early play on postseason qualification, and the notice for the four teams farther than four points out on that day (the Ottawa Senators, New Jersey Devils, Los Angeles Kings, and Detroit Red Wings (here’s a fun one: the Devils have a -25 goal differential; if there was a gypsy curse that caused each of those 25 goals to count double, they’d still need to allow three more to catch the Red Wings’ -53) that it’s already too late to be too early.

The Sharks are inside that 96 percent group, but that doesn’t mean they’re in the clear. All it means is that their season isn’t over yet which is a stat that, if told to us on November 1, would be cause for celebration. For now, though, we should avoid riding too high on November success. We can’t fault the team for beating bad teams: they can only play the teams the schedule puts in front of them, but that saying goes both ways. The road ahead is quite a bit tougher than the road behind, and one need only to look at tonight’s opponent to see what that toughness looks like.

San Jose has made up for their terrible October with a spectacular November, but so far, that’s all they’ve done. What can they do against the league’s real contenders like, oh I dunno, to pick a team at random, the Washington Capitals?

1. Logan Couture

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week330330857.13

Last week: 1

The captain just keeps on scoring. While Logan Couture was held off the board on Wednesday’s game against the Jets, ending what was a seven-game point streak, he made up for it by scoring three goals in the team’s other two games this week. That kept him at his current point-per-game pace, and his 28 points leads the team. While Couture’s underlying numbers may not be as rosy as we’d like, and evidence exists (stay tuned!) that he’s more of a passenger on his line than a real driver of play, every line needs a finisher and if Couture keeps piling up points while the team piles up wins, he’ll stay in this column.

This seemed like the Couture-est goal available, his positioning and, for lack of a better word, “grit” made him able to get to the most dangerous area on the ice and stay there. It’s also an example of taking advantage of other players’ abilities to drive the puck in the right direction, putting up points despite boasting unimpressive “advanced” stats. To focus back on the positive, though, watch how Couture used his strength to drive to the front of the net, maintain inside position, and keep his stick on the ice despite 196 pounds of pure, uncut Sean Walker and his stick draped all over him. Maybe in another reality the shot goes in anyway based on the Barclay Goodrow tip in the slot, maybe it goes in without any tips because Jonathan Quick is bad at his job, but in this reality it went in because Couture is stronger than Sean Walker.

2. Erik Karlsson

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week303324760.48

Maybe the most controversial player on the Sharks this season, Erik Karlsson leads all teal defensemen in points (tied with Brent Burns in one fewer game), which one would think would silence a lot of criticism, but the world we live in is cold and unjust. Our power rankings are similarly unjust, but we appreciate what Karlsson brings, at least this week. The silky Swede’s three assists tied him for the lead in points with his captain, and he’s pretty consistently on the right side of the puck, as his 60 (!) percent shot attempt share shows (confirmation bias be damned). With his massive contract starting this year, it’s hard to argue the notion that Karlsson needs to be better, but he’s also been very very good so far, and we should have the nuance to make both those arguments simultaneously.

Something that’s been referenced a few times so far this season is whether or not Karlsson has fully recovered from off-season groin surgery. Our in-house research seems to suggest that that’s pretty unlikely, which implies Karlsson’s skating will improve. Watching this clip makes me a bit skeptical that that’s possible. Karlsson received this puck skating backwards toward the Arizona net, hounded by Lawson Crouse who was skating forward, you know, like a regular human. If we just watch Karlsson’s feet and resist the urge to be dazzled by his flowing mane, he pivoted his right foot toward the half wall and then eased into the slickest gigantic mohawk turn I think I’ve ever seen outside of Jeff Skinner’s backyard. What a skater.

3. Barclay Goodrow

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week302210661.9

Barclay Goodrow is starting to become a regular in these parts, and maybe that has something to do with his meteoric rise up the Sharks’ depth chart. Still, he’s making the most of his opportunities, and posted the highest shot attempt share on the team this week among skaters who played all three games. What’s more, the man they call Barclay (because that is his name) has put up pretty consistently good play-driving numbers all season: he sits fifth on the team in shot attempt share while also sitting 16th in offensive zone start percentage (at 5-on-5, adjusted for score and venue, and ignoring players with fewer than four games played). There was a lot of lip service about depth scoring growing from within the team’s ranks, and most of it has yet to materialize, but Barclay Goodrow, at least, has arrived.

This play didn’t result in a goal, but still shows off a lot of Goodrow’s hustle and hockey sense. Let’s mostly focus on Goodrow’s decision to fly the zone after Couture’s shot. It looked like Kyle Clifford was most likely to get to the puck first as it caromed around the half wall, but as soon as Karlsson stopped the puck at the point and juked it through Clifford’s skates (that Karlsson, seriously) watch how Goodrow was able to turn and, while falling, poke the puck past the waiting Trevor Lewis. Standing up, he took advantage of some of the ensuing chaos to get a great shot off from one of the most consistently dangerous areas of the offensive zone.

4. Evander Kane

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week3011001060.02

The third of three players with a greater than 60 percent share of shot attempts at evens, Evander Kane has been overlooked in this space and others over recent weeks. Maybe that’s because he hasn’t been putting up as many points recently (four points in his last eight) after his scorching start to the season set all our bars pretty high (ten points in his first nine). Kane’s underlying numbers have been pretty consistent, though, and there’s evidence that both Couture’s and Goodrow’s recent surges in production have a lot to do with Kane’s influence on the direction of play around them. Kane’s shot attempt share relative to teammates is third best on the team, and his expected goals per 60 minutes played relative to teammates is fifth. Also, check this out:

It’s a bit reductive, and other factors do apply here, but over the course of the season, Kane’s presence on the ice correlates with driving play in the right direction and creating dangerous scoring chances more well than it does with either of his more traditionally productive line mates. When Kane is scoring, he gets (deservedly) a lot of media attention and acclaim (we’re just as guilty of this as anyone), but when the pucks aren’t going in for him or for his pass recipients directly, he’s still contributing a lot to this team’s success.

5. Martin Jones

TimeGames PlayedRecordShots AgainstGoals AllowedSv%GAA5v5 Sv%HDSv%5v5 GSAA
This Week22-0-0573.9471.51.9421.0001.11

The NHL’s third star of the week is only the fifth in the power rankings? This is a tragic miscarriage of justice, but I don’t make the rules (editor’s note: yes he does). These rankings take into consideration the whole of the season so far, though, and Martin Jones has had his rocky streaks, even if this week wasn’t one of them. Still, those streaks haven’t been nearly as rocky as we might think. We may have to start re-calibrating our unconscious reactions to save percentages under .900. If you’re like me, you see a save percentage that starts with an eight and you immediately recoil in horror; that’s well below average and even farther below acceptable, right? Well, maybe that’s changing. We all accept that scoring has gone up in the league, but should work to internalize that stat’s necessary corollary: save percentage has gone down.

This year’s league average save percentage so far is .906. That’s lower than it’s been since 2006-07, and it should put Jones’ .881 into some perspective. Yes, it’s still not good enough, and it’s probably buoyed an unsustainable amount by his penalty kill numbers, which are notoriously erratic season-to-season but it’s a far sight away from the horrifying numbers he put up last season. Even if it still starts with an eight.

This is one of those classic saves that looks like a “Save of the year candidate” and is likely marketed as such on social media, when it’s actually merely very good. While it can look like Jones stretched out his blocker just to make a diving save on Brad Richardson’s wrist shot, that’s not really fair: the blocker was already there, Richardson just shot the puck right into it. That shouldn’t diminish the ability of the goaltender too much, though: Jones was able to read Jacob Chychrun’s intentions behind the net well enough to position his left skate in a way that allowed him to drive to his right to cover enough of the net to give himself a reasonable opportunity to stop the threat from the slot. That kind of analysis is admittedly a little wordy and boring for intermission pundits to breakdown, but it’s a more consistent way to play the position, even if it’s not always quite as cool.

Hono(u)rable mentions

Dylan Gambrell: Just watch this friggin’ shot. What a monster.

Noah Gregor: First NHL goals always deserve a spot here, and it was great to see one finally go in for a player like Gregor who’s been melting ice all season.

David Pastrnak: I know he shows up here a lot, but kid has 25 goals in 27 games, and the last one was scored with no teammates on the ice. The poor child had no Brad Marchand or Patrice Bergeron to hug, so he just vogued to the crowd. Everything he does is amazing and I love him.