Player Power Rankings Week 1: Sitting at the kids’ table

There’s hope somewhere in this article, I promise.

Don’t panic.

I mentioned in a preview earlier this week (and haven’t been the only one to do so) that the last time the San Jose Sharks lost the first three games of a season was in 1993, and they lost four, going winless for nine. That Sharks team made the playoffs with 82 points before bowing out in seven in the second round to the Toronto Maple Leafs (and breaking my young heart. I really thought that was the year, but I was nine, and nine-year-olds are stupid). The league was different in the early nineties, though: a simpler time, when every game was worth exactly two points. The addition of the extra point for reaching overtime and occasional three-point-game makes it harder to make up ground in the standings in the modern NHL, making a slow start much harder to overcome.

Referring to San Jose’s first three games as “a slow start,” though, seems generous. Not only are the Sharks pointless through three contests, joining only the Dallas Stars for that dubious honor, their -9 goal differential is last in the league (one behind the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have -8 in one fewer game played), their three goals scored is last among teams with three games played and only ahead of the Vancouver Canucks and Arizona Coyotes, both of whom have played only two.

The Sharks’ 5-on-5 shot attempt percentage of 43.13 is 26th, their expected goals for percentage of 39.60 is 28th, and their scoring chance for percentage of 36.52 is 30th. For those of you less statistically inclined, all of these things are bad.

And yet, we lead of our power rankings of the 2019-20 season with a mantra: Don’t panic. If Douglas Adams taught us anything, it’s that democracy is framed around avoiding the election of the wrong man-eating lizard, but if he taught us anything else, it’s Don’t Panic. The Sharks opened the season with an exciting, if not particularly fair, home-and-home series against the Vegas Golden Knights, a team many have picked as the cream of the Western Conference, a team that boasts experience, speed, depth, star power and very sharp and sparkly white jerseys.

The Knights, as many of us anticipated, obliterated the Sharks, cruising to an aggregate 9-2 score, including three short-handed goals. For three Sharks skaters, these were their first two NHL games, and three more have played fewer than 40. There is a huge dearth of experience here, and it will take time to gel. The Sharks have looked disjointed, but Saturday’s game in Anaheim was better. Not on the scoreboard, of course, Actual American Superhero John Gibson saw to that, but the process improved.

The Sharks sustained pressure against the Ducks, they got quality chances in the offensive zone, and they didn’t even give up one short-handed goal, reducing their average shorties-allowed-per-game by a full 0.5. It looked much more like a game where miscues were amplified (Aaron Dell, my good friend, how do you pass the puck right to Ondrej Kase? It’s not like you can’t see him, they’re all wearing traffic cones), and strong offensive play was stifled by a great goaltender (Tomas Hertl deserved better); and less like a game where the Sharks accidentally found themselves playing in the wrong league.

This team lost 63 goals in the off-season and replaced them with brand new NHL players. The kids are playing well, the vets are finding their stride and their new chemistry with new faces and things will start turning around. Unfortunately, the team does not currently have the luxury of time. Tonight the Sharks face another pre-season darling in the Nashville Predators, who have scored 23 goals in their last four home games against the Sharks. Then they head North to visit the Chicago Blackhawks (where hope springs: the Blackhawks are the only team below the Sharks on all three of the above “advanced” metrics (albeit in only one game of data (and that game was in Prague. NHL, you crazy))), and then return home to host the Calgary Flames and the Carolina “out-shot the Tampa Bay Lightning 44-13” Hurricanes.

0-3 is manageable, and there are good things upon which we can look for the Sharks to build, but 1-5-1 is a difficult hole to climb out of, and it could be right around the corner. Douglas Adams also said “A learning experience is one of those things that says, ‘You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.’”

They know the thing they just did. Now, don’t do it again.

1. Logan Couture

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week3112201048.99

We don’t need to re-invent the wheel here. Logan Couture leads all Sharks in points with two (woof), has fired the second-most shots on net, and has the third-highest shot attempt percentage at evens among players with more than one appearance (apologies to the family of Jonny Brodzinski). The team’s fresh captain made the hockey world’s heart grow three sizes when he personally apologized to the Knights’ bench after inadvertently injuring defender Nate Schmidt, and took personal responsibility for the team’s lackluster home opener: “I’m disappointed for (the fans) to show up and waste their time and money to watch that.” A theme this week will be players benefiting from playing with vets, and vets lifting up new players, and Couture helped to create space for rookie Danil Yurtaykin, with whom he spent 44.05 percent of his ice time.

What a shot, indeed, Brian Hayward. Gibson is not an easy goaltender to deceive and, taking into consideration the 215-pound Czech screen, it could be argued that he wasn’t deceived here either, but I was. Gibson didn’t bite on the Brenden Dillon shot fake, or the Erik Karlsson shot fake, but Couture’s shot got through. What made this shot special is the release. Couture is taking the outside lane to avoid defender Max Jones down low, but is able to release the puck from behind his own skates with enough force to elevate it into the far corner. That takes a remarkable amount of stability and core strength to execute, and a remarkable amount of creativity to try.

2. Joe Thornton

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week3011110245.83

In his own words, he’s still got it. Joe Thornton ran a puck possession clinic against the Ducks on Sunday, but the main reason he’s this high in the rankings is probably that we’re just so happy he’s back for another year. As players age, they’re still effective and relevant right up until the day they aren’t. Jaromir Jagr was a dominant presence for decades until, one year, he just wasn’t. After the Vegas debacle, that concern about Thornton became apparent. Somebody must have told the man himself, because he led the Sharks in shot attempt share and expected goals for percentage on Saturday night, if only to prove our concerns unwarranted.

Also, credit is due for Thornton pretending to be interested in fighting William Karlsson, when we all know he was doing just enough to get ejected so he could hit the sauna a few minutes before Dillon came in with his dumb jokes about football or something.

It seems disingenuous to say that Thornton still has wheels, since the wheels were never really a big part of the big man’s game, but here we are. Thornton just barely misses out on a breakaway by getting tied up with Deryk Engelland on the way in, but this play kind of encapsulates what the Sharks are trying to do. Thornton flew the zone just as Erik Karlsson started to reach the puck below the goal line, eschewing defensive coverage to create an offensive opportunity. Last year, the Sharks had a stated plan to create offense even if it comes at the cost of chances against, and Thornton’s propensity to bulldoze Marc-Andre Fleury here may be an example of that concept.

3. Mario Ferraro

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week301112449.97

The man they call Super Mario (what? Well, maybe they should start.) staked his claim on the NHL this week. Ferraro made a name for himself at UMass-Amherst after being drafted at 47th overall by the Sharks in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, most notably skating on a pair with Colorado Avalanche phenom Cale Makar. Ferraro’s skill set seems to have translated well to the NHL stage, as the 21-year-old leads the team in assists per 60 minutes played (with one) and led the team in relative shot attempt share during their home opener, scoring his first NHL point in the process. Ferraro has spent a little over a quarter of his even-strength ice time (a plurality) with Brent Burns, and another fifth with Karlsson, so it may take some time to find a permanent partner for him, but for now, he seems to be handing the uncertainty just fine.

Ferraro shot for a rebound here, which seems pretty clear when we look at the shot from his perspective. He entered the zone with speed, and skated down the left wing just long enough to get the puck behind a crouching Deryk Engelland. From that angle, there couldn’t have been any net in sight, but Ferraro took advantage of Marc-Andre Fleury’s big leg balloons, and correctly used them to bounce a rebound into the chaos in the low slot. From there, Barclay Goodrow did the rest, at least until the 64-penalty-minute fracas ensued immediately thereafter.

4. Marcus Sorensen

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week3101114343.55

Marcus Sorensen was the only Shark to put two pucks in opponents’ nets. The second one was on a very high stick, so it didn’t stick to the scoreboard, but the skill was noticeable, especially in the absence of puck-tipper-extraordinaire Joe Pavelski. Sorensen, skating on a line with Thornton and Kevin Labanc, made up a third of what may have been the only moderately effective trio in the Sharks’ season opener at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. With those skaters, Sorensen led the team in relative shot attempt share, and score the Sharks’ first goal of the season, cutting the Knights’ lead in half. As mentioned above, he almost scored their second, too, if those damn rules hadn’t got in the way. Stupid rules ...

There is so much to like about this play and what it could mean going forward. Brent Burns made an excellent breakout pass up the middle, Logan Couture made a visionary tap pass on the backhand underneath the outstretched stick of Shea Theodore to a streaking Sorensen, and Sorensen blistered a wrist shot far side and bar down on Fleury. Watch how Sorensen’s left skate wobbled as the shot was released, using his body weight as a counter to create extra flexion on the stick, what a shot.

5. Erik Karlsson

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week201110648.85

Erik Karlsson is pretty good, you guys, but he might just be here because he and his wife had a baby and it makes me so happy? Yeah, that’s probably it.

Hono(u)rable Mentions

Danil Yurtaykin: If there’s a bright spot to the Sharks’ crop of very young forwards in this early going, it’s probably Yurtaykin. The KHL product has fit in well with the Sharks’ top line, and has had a few good scoring chances so far. He’ll have to tidy up his game and trust the system more, but he looks likely to develop into an impact player.

Tomas Hertl: Hertl was incredibly dangerous on Saturday night in Anaheim. If he continued to put that kind of net-front pressure on for a few more minutes, he may have finally been able to get a puck past ...

John Gibson: Gibson has a career save percentage in all situations of .922. .922! Can he just run for president or something? What an athlete. What an American.