Player Power Rankings, Week 8: Haute Couture

Got six in there this time! We’re metastasizing!

Welcome to Fear the Fin’s weekly player power rankings. We pick the top five performances of the week, using tiebreakers like full season performance, particularly memorable plays, powerful mustache play, very good post-game quotes and interactions with the permanent No. 1 Shark, Finn the dog. Feel welcome to use these rankings to argue with friends and enemies, form opinions about sports, politics, and birds, or count up to numbers including (but not limited to) five.

With their over time win over the basement bound Los Angeles Kings last night, the San Jose Sharks have all but erased their brutal start to the season and find themselves sitting in the Western Conference’s second wild card spot. The race is not over by any stretch of the imagination, but as we’ve talked about in this space over the past month or so, the NHL’s point system makes gaining ground in the standings much harder than keeping it, so they’re finally in a good position going forward. With a win tomorrow against the visiting Winnipeg Jets, the Sharks could sit comfortably in a playoff position on the All Important Arbitrary Deadline of (American) Thanksgiving.

The fact that only four of the Sharks’ nine wins in ten games came in regulation time could be a cause for concern, as could their sub-optimal underlying numbers during that span, but when the team is in as unenviable position as the one in which they found themselves on November 4, the results start to matter more than the process. If they can reel off a couple more Ws in the next admittedly tough stretch of three games in four days with travel, we can start complaining about Corsi, but for now, let’s just take the good things as they are.

That win came in the first of the Sharks’ season series against their SoCal compatriots, which up until pretty recently would have been a marquee match up and appointment viewing, complete with the Sharks blowing a 3-0 lead and all of the baggage therewith. As we talked about in our preview yesterday, though, the emotion of that pairing has waned in recent years commensurate with the Kings’ still in progress slide out of relevance (delightful) and the emergent evil that is the Vegas Golden Knights. Over the team’s history, the Sharks have had their fair share of blood rivals, from the Knights, St. Louis Blues, and Pittsburgh Penguins of recent years, to the Anaheim Ducks and Colorado Avalanche of the late 2000s, back through the days of Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs hate through the first decade and change.

So, with the ever shifting sands of time and of hate coalescing into the present moment, let’s take an opportunity to remember the rivalries we’ve lost over the years, and see if we can’t determine what makes these rivalries what they are. After all, sports hate and rivalries are entirely subjective feelings, and what better way to address subjective feelings that to quantify them objectively?

The NHL keeps telling us that rivalries are built in the playoffs, and since they’d never mislead us in any way, we can take that as gospel. With that in mind, who have the Sharks played most often in the postseason over the course of their existence?

If there’s anything we can learn at face value from this exercise, it’s the power of recency in regards to rivalry animosity, which makes sense. While the Red Wings are the second most played team in the playoffs, being angry at Ray Sheppard and using that to power anger at the modern Detroit squad doesn’t make very much sense. In fact, the Kings, one of the Sharks’ most powerful rivalries and the team that spurred on this exercise, didn’t face our boys in the postseason at all until 2011, but have crammed in four meetings since then, eliminating the Sharks twice (I can only remember one, but maybe since the league cancelled the playoffs in 2014 there are some recording abnormalities).

More to that point, the strong feelings most of the fan base has toward the Knights seem to bear out the power of recency in team hate. Memories of Corey Perry, Dustin Brown, Sergei Fedorov and Craig Anderson seem to pale in comparison to those of Ryan Reaves, William Carrier and Marc-Andre Fleury in intensity.

If I were a true scientist, I would use these data to finally put to bed my unreasonable grudge against the Leafs for eliminating my good teal friends in 1994. Luckily, I’m just a jerk on the internet, and thus am not held to that standard, but the lack of anger from the San Jose fan base towards the Blues prior to last season’s bloodbath is also curious. Is it because in five total meetings the Sharks triumphed in more than they fell? Is it because they were too long ago?

If anything, it seems like rivalry is borne from specific incidents during playoff rounds. More specifically, specific incidents of which the Sharks found themselves on the losing end. While our rivalry with fans of the Red Wings through the late 90s was vitriolic, most Detroit fans will shrug if reminded: it wasn’t a rivalry to them, because they didn’t lose (at least, not until 2010). Similarly, the Sharks’ rivalry with the Kings is dying in part because the Kings just aren’t good anymore, and real fan hate is borne from misery.

That misery will have to wait until maybe Friday, at the earliest, as the San Jose - LA rivalry appears all but dead, despite the closeness on the score sheet last night. The Sharks capped off another successful week, which leads to a crowded field atop these rankings.

Luckily, it’s my rankings and I can cheat if I want to. Let’s get at it.

1. Logan Couture

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week4224421443.29

Last week: 2

After a less-than-impressive start to the season, commensurate with the team’s unimpressive start, captain Logan Couture seems to have found his ice legs. Leading the team in points this week and this season, Couture has hit a point-per-game pace, but is largely number one this week for recording two overtime goals, game winners by necessity, and overtime goals are more fun than regulation goals. The captain also led the squad this week in goals and in shots on goal, and will head into tomorrow’s game against Winnipeg riding an 11-in-7 point streak. In keeping with the overall worries about San Jose’s play, Couture’s advanced stats are concerning, but winning solves everything, and they seem less important than scoring goals that win games.

Admittedly, we may be overthinking things a bit here at FtF videography incorporated by not picking one of his extra time tallies, but this clip really exemplifies the vision that Couture has about where the puck needs to go and the best way to get it there. As Couture streaked into the offensive zone after supporting Kevin Labanc on the wall, both Anthony Beauvillier and Devon Toews commit to covering him in a not particularly dangerous area of the ice. You can see where Couture glanced over his shoulder just above the face off circle: that glance gave him enough info to estimate both where teammate Evander Kane would be in a few seconds, that he would be open, and when exactly to pass to split the puck between his two defenders. That gave Kane a great opportunity for a shot using Islander Scott Mayfield as a screen.

2. Timo Meier

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week4303301357.77

Scoring two goals in one game against Jonathan Quick is a pretty surefire way into these rankings and all of our hearts, but Timo Meier has been steadily improving week to week this season. Adding another goal against the Sharks’ newest arch-rival on Thursday and leading the team in both on-ice shot attempt share and individual shot attempts helps his cause here, as does his chemistry with Sharks cause célèbre and breakout superstar in the making Barclay Goodrow in the absence of former Swiss whisperer Tomas Hertl.

If there’s an activity that is more endemically Timo Meier than backhanding a goal past Marc-Andre Fleury immediately before tackling the goal post and destroying everything in sight, I haven’t seen it. What Meier did to Nate Schmidt on the way into the zone should maybe be just as illegal as the drugs Schmidt clearly forgot to do that morning to keep up with the modern NHL. Meier took advantage of Schmidt’s kind of lackluster swipe at the puck just inside the blue line before deciding to just crash right through him. The backhand shot that goes into the net actually goes underneath Schmidt’s stick, as if Meier decided not to use his speed after all. This kind of power forward play is less common than it used to be as the game gets faster and more skilled, but I miss it.

3. Kevin Labanc

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week412324854.03

Last week: 3

Labanc seems to have carved out a niche at number three in these rankings, and is pretty consistently driving the Sharks’ proverbial bus in the right direction. After eight weeks, Labanc still leads the team in on-ice shot attempt differential at 5-on-5, adjusted for score and venue, and as the sample size gets larger, it gets more reasonable to draw the conclusion that he has a real knack for driving play in the right direction more often than not. With two assist last night, Labanc is racking up the counting stats as well, and his bet-on-myself gamble is working out far better than the one that was in the news last week.

It’s pretty easy to get distracted by the gallons of sauce that Brenden Dillon is pouring out of his gloves during this clip, but there was a pass before that one, too. Setting aside yet another great read by Goodrow, Labanc’s ability to lob a pass laterally right past the waving sticks of both Carl Grundstrom and Jeff Carter with the former only barely able to get a piece of it was remarkable. He also showed a fair bit of muscle to get inside position on Tyler Toffoli at the half wall with enough time to read what was going on elsewhere on the ice. Labanc is a player, and he’ll have to get paid eventually.

4. Martin Jones / Aaron Dell

TimeGames PlayedRecordShots AgainstGoals AllowedSv%GAA5v5 Sv%HDSv%5v5 GSAA
Jones Season2010-8-156061.8913.24.872.807-17.75
Jones Week32-1-0939.9032.92.879.833-3.00
Dell Season73-3-019420.8973.33.885.804-4.83
Dell Week11-0-0381.9740.95.9641.0001.12

We like to get a variety of names on these lists over the course of the year, and wanted to credit Aaron Dell for his great performance in Las Vegas, and Martin Jones for his play the last two games, but one game wasn’t enough to get in, and Jones was forgettable on Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers, so here we are. There haven’t been many opportunities to sing the praises of the Sharks’ goaltending tandem in the past 15 months or so, but both keepers were excellent this week in games where the team needed it. Also, playing Aaron Dell on the day that Frozen II released was a gift to me personally, and I will be forever grateful to Peter DeBoer for that opportunity.

This clip really exemplifies Martin Jones at his best. Jones’ lateral movement has long been a concern, and it’s nigh impossible to know what precedes a game like this one, where his movements are precise and conservative, as opposed to one where he seems to over-correct and flop about out in the parking lot while pucks sail over and around him like tracer rounds. These saves tend to look less impressive, because Jones doesn’t need to make an acrobatic save on Brock Nelson in tight: he’s already in position, aware of the threat Nelson posed beforehand. I’ve kind of given up hoping that this Jones would become a regular on the Sharks’ roster, but maybe?

5. Patrick Marleau

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week410112646.01

Patrick Marleau has been pretty much what we all expected on his triumphant reunion tour in San Jose, but he’s included on this list because scoring in overtime against the Kings will always be awesome. Still, the old man has recorded almost a half point-per-game pace, which is good for someone commanding such a small percentage of the salary cap. If the coaching staff’s decision to run 11 forwards over the last few games doesn’t persist, or doesn’t wear out the bones and connective tissues of the team’s vets, Marleau could still prove to be a useful piece.

There isn’t much to analyze here, Marleau deserves credit for being in the right place as Jonathan Quick earned his first primary assist of the evening, as is his wont, but that’s worth something. Marleau’s game has always been built on speed, and as he gets older, that strength is waning. His ability to be where the puck is going, especially in overtime, where 3-on-3 hockey punishes bad positioning, will have to be his key to relevance moving forward.

Hono(u)rable mentions

Barclay Goodrow: Goodrow didn’t earn assists on either of Meier’s goals last night, but his play was instrumental in creating both opportunities. Maybe we should institute tertiary assists? And quaternary assists? That would do it! Aw, I think I just reinvented plus/minus.

Evander Kane: Kane led the Sharks in assists this week, but mostly he gave us the “pay your markers” chant from the Vegas crowd, and that was really delightful.

Ryan Getzlaf: The Anaheim Ducks captain scored the first goal in their 3-0 win over the New York Islanders yesterday, ending the latter team’s absurd 17-game point streak, so thanks for slaying that giant, I guess.