Player Power Rankings Week 25: In Meier Straits

He says at last, just as the Timo bell rings.

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.

As the regular season winds down, much is being made of what bearing a team’s play in the final stretch of the season has on their playoff performance. The large strokes of that conversation can be found elsewhere (most notably here and here), but what do past seasons have to say about how much we should worry about the San Jose Sharks’ current predicament in particular?

Losers of five in a row (four of which were in regulation and three of which were against non-playoff teams), the Sharks should probably kiss the dream of catching the Calgary Flames atop the Pacific good bye, and with it the prospect of a plushy-soft first round match up with the second wild card team. The Flames are hot (sorry), having won their last three and, with a six point lead with seven games left to play, we should probably prepare ourselves for a brutal first round series against the surging Vegas Golden Knights. Now that we’re afraid, the Sharks are 0-4-1 in their last five and 5-4-1 in their last ten. They’ve got seven games to turn it around and go into the second season on a high note, but to what end?

This is the Sharks’ 27th season in the NHL, during which they’ve missed the playoffs a remarkably low six times. That leaves us an admittedly small sample of 20 seasons to look at. Still, it’s enough to get a rough estimate of what we can or should expect:

There is a lot to take away from these data. First, this has been a really good team almost all of the time. In years in which the Sharks made the postseason, they have never really stumbled in; the worst finish they had was in 2017, when their 4-6-0 was largely due to Joe Thornton’s absence and Logan Couture’s melted face. Still, there doesn’t seem to be much of a correlation between last ten-game performance and depth of a playoff run, and the data support what appears to be the case here.

While depth of playoff run did not correlate very strongly with either win percentage or points percentage, it did correlate positively with both of them (for the social science majors in the audience: point percentage to playoff round exit: r = 0.316, p < 0.17; for win percentage to playoff round exit: r = 0.405, p < 0.08). Much of the lack of statistical significance here is likely due to sample size; with win percentage in particular, a larger sample would have made it less likely that these results are due to chance, but what does that mean in regards to whether or not we should all be hiding under our beds and clutching our pearls if the Sharks go 2-4-1 down the stretch?

On the positive side, the correlation between the Sharks’ stretch run and playoff performance is weak, so it would be hard to worry too much about a weak finish to the season. On the other side, they’ve never finished a season with a postseason appearance with fewer than four wins in their final ten, so we could be heading into uncharted territory. This may be a pretty long winded way to write out a shrug emoji, but more information is always better than less, and maybe we can lower some pulses heading into the ‘yoffs with the Vegas buzzsaw again.

1. Timo Meier

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week310110664.38

Last week: 3

We’ll preface this whole thing by saying that positivity has been hard to come by this week. With one measly standings point out of three games, underachievement is a gentle descriptor. Still, Timo Meier’s performance is a ray of light to which we can cling. Meier led the Sharks in on-ice shot attempt share at 5-on-5, despite carrying the third lowest offensive zone start on the team. With no shortage of good chances in the offensive zone and some strong play on the other side of the puck, Meier will be leaned upon heavily once the playoffs start for real.

As long as the puck ends up in the other guys’ net, there is no such thing as selfish. Meier’s tenacity to ensure that the puck crossed the line behind John Gibson may have been the difference here and his ability to do so relied upon him taking some net front punishment from Josh Manson and ignoring it. Rather than take an undisciplined penalty, Meier waited for Manson to tire of his new toy and be drawn away to the puck carrier — in this case, Joe Thornton. This proved to be Manson’s undoing, as Thornton fired the puck at the net (to be fair, it’s not Manson’s fault he didn’t expect that), which squeaked through Gibson. Meier was waiting to pounce, as he often is.

2. Logan Couture

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week220220758.61

As the Sharks’ season has its ups and downs over the course of the full 82, Logan Couture just keeps on producing. With two goals in two games played this week (both against Vegas on Monday), Couture is just three points shy of his career high in points and with seven games to go, we’re pretty confident he’ll get there. The only Shark with more than one goal this week, Couture led the team in that category, despite missing Thursday night’s game in Los Angeles with flu-like symptoms. Even as Couture’s linemates mix and mingle with the team’s myriad injury concerns, he is the rare center who can make any combination of complementary talent work.

What’s key here is Couture staying at the net after whiffing on Gustav Nyquist’s centering pass. As Nate Schmidt followed the puck around the wall up to Brenden Dillon at the point, Couture stayed put, exhibiting the knowledge of where the puck is going to be that is at the center of a high hockey IQ. The newly open Couture tried to get a tip on the puck to get Dillon’s point shot past goaltender Malcolm Subban, but met only pad for his efforts. Not to be dissuaded, Couture displayed some of his hallmark sticktoitiveness, pulling the puck back to his backhand and shoveling it past Subban. At this point in the game, we’d all yet to surrender our will to the Mark Stone collective, and Couture’s opening tally gave us hope, fleeting though it may have been.

3. Kevin Labanc

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week311212962.01

If we here at Fear the Fin were amenable to the haphazard application of post-hoc narratives onto hot and cold streaks, we’d probably say something about how Kevin Labanc’s run of excellent play over the past few weeks is indelibly linked to his name’s constant bandying about in the days and hours leading up the trade deadline late last month. Luckily, we are not particularly amenable to that, but his heating up cannot be ignored. Really, Labanc’s production hit a higher gear in the beginning of February, as his 19 points over 23 games for the past two months matched his production over the previous 33 contests. While the Sharks’ fortunes as a whole have taken a downturn, Labanc is still peaking.

Labanc started this sequence down in the corner, applying pressure to Manson and forcing the latter to make an ill-advised pass out to Max Jones at his own blue line. Tim Heed was there to pick off the pass and maintain zone time. As Marc-Edouard Vlasic moved down the wall, both Manson and Troy Terry skated right by Labanc, giving him ample time to settle a pass and fire the wrister far side past Gibson.

4. Marc-Edouard Vlasic

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week303330759.87

Last week: 1

It seems to finally be time to cut the mystical tether that once connected Marc-Edouard Vlasic to Justin Braun with our ritualistic golden scissors. Since his return from injury in early February, Vlasic has spent time with Erik Karlsson and, since the latter’s injury, Tim Heed. With Heed, Vlasic has not only posted more respectable possession numbers, he’s also recorded more points. Vlasic tallied his 20th assist this week, making six straight seasons he’s hit that mark, despite what has been, by most accounts, a down year for the man they call Pickles. The Sharks will need him to round back into 2015 form in a few weeks, so his trending upward is welcome.

It kind of figures that we’d pick a clip where Vlasic is playing with Braun to highlight how good they’ve been apart, but that’s the way the cookie gets burned by a lack of foresight. It’s possible that this Vlasic shot attempt was intended to be on net, and just happened to careen off of the boards behind the Anaheim net right onto Braun’s tape, but it seems just as likely that Vlasic intended for that deflection angle. By rifling the puck past the net on the short side, Vlasic ensured that Gibson would commit to him as a threat, and would not be able to get back to his left to prevent Braun’s follow up. Again, hope sprung, but eternal it certainly was not.

5. Brent Burns

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week303322754.76

Last week: 5

While Brent Burns had what he probably hopes was a pretty forgettable night on Friday in Anaheim, his achievement of a few milestones and completion of a truly amazing breakout pass in Los Angeles secured his place this week. With an assist against the Ducks, Burns reached 77 points on the season, officially passing his previous career high of 76 set in 2016-17. Burns’ defensive lapses can be pretty jarring, especially when they lead directly to goals, an unfortunate series of events that we bore witness to Friday night, but he almost always more than makes up for it with pure offensive brute force.

In the 2017 playoffs, much was made (and still is, for good reason) about this play: an Erik Karlsson pass from behind his own goal line to a streaking Mike Hoffman at the Boston Bruins blueline. Hoffman tucked a Peter Forsberg backhand past Tuukka Rask and the hockey world rejoiced. This play may be the first one where it is immediately clear that the Sharks could enter the playoffs with two of these guys. If that doesn’t quell your pessimism about the Sharks’ recent play, I’m not sure what will.

Hono(u)rable Mentions

Gustav Nyquist: The smooth Swede seems to have fit right in in San Jose, and recorded his 300th NHL point with an assist on Monday against the Knights.

Brenden Dillon: Where Vlasic seems to have flourished free from his pairing with Justin Braun, Dillon seems to be flourishing with his. No matter who Dillon plays with, he gets things done.

Evander Kane: Kane continued his strong play after returning to the line up. While he went pointless this week, he was often in and around opposing nets, creating dangerous chances. As long as he sticks with it, the pucks will start going in again.