Player Power Rankings, Week 19: Labanc Panic!

This weekend saw a mass hat withdrawal.

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.

And then there were two.

Separated by a single, lonely point, the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks sit comfortably atop the Pacific division standings, a clean seven points ahead of the suddenly floundering Vegas Golden Knights. Losers of four of their last 11 games, the Knights have all but fallen out of the race entirely, leaving it up to the Sharks to solidify the top of the standings to avoid a first round match up against the still very dangerous Vegas squad.

Looking to the remaining schedule, it’s not immediately obvious which Pacific team will have an easier run to close out the season. The Sharks have 15 of their remaining 26 games at home, and 13 games against teams currently in a playoff position. The Flames play 14 of their 27 at the Saddledome, and 12 are against playoff teams. Recent momentum could be indicative of immediate success in the near future, however, as the Sharks have won their last five, and have done so without the services of Erik Karlsson, attractive pirate extraordinaire, while Calgary has dropped four of their last ten.

While the race at the top of the division gets more heated and interesting, the rest of the Western Conference is a bit of a disaster. Currently, both of the teams in the West’s two wild card spots have negative goal differentials; the lowest goal differential among playoff teams in the East is +10. The Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes, currently in a pitched battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second Eastern wild card spot, would be comfortably ensconced in post season confidence in the west, three and two points ahead of the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild, respectively.

To confound the Western chaff, the Blues have stormed back into the conversation with a six-game winning streak on the back of shiny new goaltender and Jim Halpert understudy Jordan Binnington and the Chicago Blackhawks are allowing Patrick Kane to shoot their draft lottery position in the foot by winning their last seven.

All of this adds up only to augment the importance of the top seed back home. The difference between matching up against a regressing, but still very dangerous Knights squad and against a surging, but ultimately inconsequential Blues team is significant, and could go a long way towards deciding who goes deeper in this postseason.

More performances like these would sure help.

1. Kevin Labanc

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week332542442.52

Kevin Labanc’s five points and three goals shared a team lead with two forwards later in these rankings and, while scoring all three goals in one game may make them less valuable in regards to making a difference in the standings, it is also measurably more fun, so the kid gets the top spot. Labanc’s success is probably related to his inclusion on the Sharks’ third line with Joe Thornton and Marcus Sorensen, instead of on their fourth with Barclay Goodrow and Melker Karlsson. Goodrow and Karlsson are good players, but, even at his advanced age, no forward on the Sharks drives play as consistently and effectively as Thornton, and Labanc’s box scores show it.

With a hat trick against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night, Labanc matched his goal total from the previous 22 games. While not exactly a goal drought, Labanc’s production has fallen off from the early days of the season, when he was a fixture in this column, and it’s refreshing to see him gain some confidence. When he’s fired up, Labanc is a creative, responsible, and synergistic two-way forward who sees the ice well, battles in corners, and brings a sense of cohesion to the locker room, and any team in the NHL would be lucky to have him, Mr. Holland.

If Labanc had been suffering from a lack of confidence coming into Saturday night’s action in Edmonton, it didn’t show. The kid’s goal to open the scoring against the Oilers showed a remarkable ability to ignore the pressure of at least two defending Oilers sticks. Labanc received a slick pass from Thornton (shocking, I know) and was able to fire of a snap shot right over the checking stick of Brad Malone without re-aligning his body.  Such a quick shot meant that Cameron J. Talbot, Esq. had no time to square himself to the shot. While Labanc went on to score two more that night, this one may have been the prettiest.

2. Martin Jones

TimeGames PlayedRecordShots AgainstGoals AllowedSv%GAA5v5 Sv%HDSv%5v5 GSAA
This Week22-0-06540.9381.960.9230.8850.13

Goaltending has been a regular concern for the Sharks over the course of this season, with Martin Jones being a common source of frustration for fans, and back up Aaron Dell’s performances have not been much better, and even less consistent. Still, the Sharks’ recent successes owe themselves to Jones’ solid play in no small part, a trend exemplified in the keeper’s strong play in Calgary and Winnipeg. There are still some signs of concern, and they’re familiar. Jones’ save percentage is buoyed once again by an unsustainable save percentage on the penalty kill: his 0.957 short-handed save percentage this week is the second highest in the league among keepers who faced at least 20 shots.

Good or not, though, the Sharks have been up to the task in front of Jones, as is evidenced by his 12-2-0 record since Christmas. Hopefully the Jones that we’re seeing this week is the Jones to which we can become accustomed going forward, but color me skeptical. For now, though, watch this!

When Jones is on his game, he’s exciting to watch largely because of his composure and his thoughtful, controlled movements in net. After he came out of the net to challenge Sean Monahan at the point, Jones moved back against the post to watch the action in the corner. A quick pad save later, Jones saw Johnny Gaudreau darting behind the net and had the presence of mind to orient his left skate for a strong push right. He got there just in time, and Gaudreau was understandably frustrated.

3. Tomas Hertl

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week332534650.09

Last week: 1

A second player with a share of the five-point week lead, Tomas Hertl appears to be having yet another breakout year. Hertl’s 51 points are second on the team behind Brent Burns, and his 25 goals are second behind Joe Pavelski. Through 51 games, Hertl has already set career highs in points, goals, and assists, and his 12.6 shooting percent is high, but not too far out of line of his career average of 11.3 percent, so we shouldn’t necessarily expect regression to hit him too hard. At this point, we just have to put him lower in the rankings because we used all the good headline jokes already.

Hertl entered the zone with control, and looked to be trying to find a pass across the seam to Joonas Donskoi. When Hertl saw that Donskoi was unavailable, you can see the gears turn: “Eh, screw it, I’ll do it myself.” Hertl read Brandon Manning’s glide towards him, and deftly pulled the puck away from the latter’s sliding crouch block. At this point, Edmonton’s strangely apathetic team defense took over, as Hertl was mostly unmolested right into the slot, where he buried a quick wrister short side on Talbot.

4. Evander Kane

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week3325441749.71

Last week: 4

Those of you who were skeptical about the dollar figure on Evander Kane’s contract (waves hand emphatically) are probably feeling a little sheepish right now (okay, yeah, but only a little). With 29 points in his last 23 games, Kane is on pace to obliterate his career highs. His 47 points so far are already his highest point total since his first season in Winnipeg in 2011-12, and he’s as close to 30 goals as he’s been since that season as well. Maybe all he needed all these years was some beautiful sunshine and to hang out with his pal, Joseph James Thornton.

This is why they tell you to play to the whistle. Kane’s persistence on this play was what put this game out of reach for the Flames. After Mike Smith blocked Kane’s first shot in close, a sliding T.J. Brodie kept on sliding right out of the way, leaving Kane on his own for another try at it. Mark Giordano made a yeoman’s effort to try to get to the loose puck first, but Donskoi skating in front of him moments earlier made it impossible. This line is firing on all cylinders, and they’re one of the most dangerous trios in the league.

5. Joe Thornton

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week303330444.19

This tweet is a reference to Thornon tying Gordie Howe for ninth on the NHL’s all-time assists list at 1049 with his second assist on a Labanc goal on Thursday. Thornton hit the mark in over 200 fewer games than Howe, and he’s just 14 assists behind Steve Yzerman for eighth. Brazil might be onto something here, in that Thornton is making history right in front of us, and we should all take a moment right now to commemorate it.


Okay, good talk.

Ain’t nobody bank passes like Jumbo bank passes. What initially appeared to be a thoughtless chip out of danger into the neutral zone became, with a camera pan, an excellent breakout pass to a streaking Evander Kane. Thornton’s vision and creativity led, once again, to a tie game and, later, to the win.

Hono(u)rable Mentions

Brenden Dillon: With Karlsson out of the lineup, one would be forgiven for expecting Dillon’s play to drop off. One would be wrong. Dillon posted the fourth-highest shot attempt share at even strength this week, riding shotgun primarily with Justin Braun. This is just more evidence on the massive pile that Karlsson should be paired with Marc-Edouard Vlasic until the sun explodes.

Dylan Gambrell: Gambrell drew into the lineup this week in the rotating fourth line center spot and did not look too out of place. While Gambrell’s 23:34 of total ice time lagged behind the rest of the Sharks’ skaters by a fair margin, he still managed the fifth highest shot attempt share on the team in protected-but-not-that-protected minutes.

Johnny Gaudreau: Without watching him every night, it’s easy to look at Johnny Hockey’s box scores and accept that he’s special, but watching him play is something else entirely. Dude is terrifying with the puck, and ubiquitous without it, and it took some great defense, great goaltending and some very lucky bounces to keep him off the board on Thursday.