Player Power Rankings, Week 9: Lead on, Captain America

What makes a man, Mr. Pavelski?

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.

I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad.

Sunday night’s sound victory over the Montreal Canadiens was an outlier of this road trip in many ways. The Sharks controlled play at 5-on-5 for the majority of the contest, scored early, held a lead throughout, and were backstopped by an increasingly competent Martin Jones. There is the concern, however, that the desirable result of the contest could be rewarding some decisions that were made through a less than desirable process.

For one, the decision to start Jones for the second time in as many nights. Last week in this space, we questioned the wisdom of that strategy after Aaron Dell’s forgettable performance against the Vegas Golden Knights and, while the result was different this time around, the rationale is the same, and that’s perplexing. Maybe this was just the extra push that Jones needed to get into game shape and we’ll see more of this Jones in the coming days and weeks, and his posture and movement on ice in addition to his sparkling save percentage last night are a testament to that argument, but doubt nevertheless lingers over the decision to give him this opportunity in the first place. This seemed like an unnecessarily risky gamble from the Sharks decision makers.

Despite the Sharks’ strong showing last night, this coaching staff’s decisions are increasingly inscrutable, and the fact remains that that very win brought San Jose’s point total for the five-game road trip up to three of a possible ten, and if the win had come in the first game rather than the last, this kind of concern would be more widespread. After briefly being relegated to fourth in the moribund Pacific division, the Sharks are now triumphantly third, just two points into a playoff spot in the beginning of December.

This is the season for big swings. As many times as you’ve heard it here and in other outlets in seasons past, this is the year for the Sharks to make a big push. There are precious few months left on the contracts of Joonas Donksoi (undoubtedly due a large raise on his current $1.9 million AAV), Joe Pavelski (making a very strong case for his own pocketbook so far this season), Joe Thornton (who will likely be flexible and work with management on a sustainable contract) and Erik Karlsson (who may or may not even want to stay in San Jose).

In addition, Antti Suomela, Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Joakim Ryan all hit restricted free agency this off-season, likely prompting increases in their shares of the proverbial pie. This roster has been built over years, and will be paid for for years to come. The Sharks’ next first round pick at the draft table is in 2021, so their ability to restock their cupboards over the next few years is limited. Suffice it to say, this is the most talented roster on paper that the Sharks have had or are likely to have in years so, as early in the season as it is, and as weak as the division is, there is and should be a sense of urgency this season and less tolerance for complacency.

The Sharks’ 1-2-1 week offered little in the way of positivity, but that’s what we do here, and we are, if nothing else, professionals. Professionals at what, you ask? Never you mind.

1. Joe Pavelski

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week4426601652.8

The captain continues to lead by example. Pavelski led the Sharks in points, goals and shots this week, often trying in vain to win games all by himself. The American hero salvaged a point in Buffalo almost singlehandedly, scoring two third period goals to take the contest to the extra frame, the only two the Sharks managed that night. Pavelski’s 17 goals leads the team on the season, four clear of the injured Timo Meier, and just five shy of his full season goal total last year. Safe to say, reports of his demise seem to have been greatly exaggerated.

Pavelski’s second goal of the night in Buffalo is the sneakiest. After Kevin Labanc’s shot goes wide, Pavelski sneaks down below the goal line as Sabres goaltender Carter Hutton follows the puck off to his right. Logan Couture taps the puck back to the captain, who reverses its direction as Hutton moves to follow where he thinks the puck is going. From there, all Pavelski has to do is reach the post before Hutton can, which turns out to be no small feat, but he achieves it nonetheless. Tie game, thank you, captain.

2. Brent Burns

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week4145401454.61

Brent Burns finally got the monkey off of his back last night with his first goal since October, but it must not have been a very big monkey, as the bearded wonder is still producing at over a point per game pace. Leading the team in assists and in points on the season, Burns had a bit of a rotating cast of defensive partners this week, as his regular friend Joakim Ryan sat last night in favor of Radim Simek, but Simek played well, and Burns got back into the goal column where he belongs.

Burns’ goal on the 5-on-3 advantage here was a team effort. Erik Karlsson drew the attention of all three Habs defenders and goaltender Carey Price with a pass down low to Pavelski and, while they’re distracted, Burns started sneaking down low towards the slot. Pavelski appeared to be looking to Logan Couture for his next move, but fooled the Canadiens by slipping the puck right past them to Burns, whose snap shot beat Price over the right shoulder.

3. Logan Couture

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week4044301151.38

Last week: 4

Couture continues to make his case for a leadership position on this team, as his 26 points are second on the team so far this season. Couture’s four assists led the team this week, and his play has been a bright twinkle in an otherwise dim road trip. Luckily, the team’s back to back road pairs are finally through, at least until (checks schedule) Friday.

Couture’s pass here is, as is his wont, playing with the defense’s expectations. Over the course of this power play, Couture had betrayed a tendency to defer to Karlsson at the blue line for distribution of the puck so much that, when he bypassed Karlsson to pass straight across to Labanc, the Leafs scrambled, and Zach Hyman in particular is caught up high and taken out of the play. As a result, Tomas Hertl was left unmarked down low and could slam a rebound past Frederik Andersen. This is the kind of mind games a team can play when there are so many players capable of quarterbacking an effective power play.

4. Kevin Labanc

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week402214852.1

Last week: 2

Labanc has taken a big step this season commensurate with a big increase in responsibility, ice time, and power play time. Unfortunately for the Sharks’ front office, that step has come in a contract year, as Labanc is set to be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. For now, though let’s just enjoy. The kid sits third on the team in assists with 14, seven of which have come with the man advantage, as Labanc has been effective in Thornton’s position at the half wall.

5. Erik Karlsson

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week4011001558.01

Last week: 1

Erik Karlsson had an emotional week. The suave Swede’s return to the city in which he spent the first nine seasons of his NHL career was spoiled with what was perhaps the Sharks’ worst loss of the season so far, a night when Karlsson was maybe the only Shark player to wake up on time for the 10:00 am Pacific puck drop. Still, a hard week for Karlsson on the ice is quite a bit better than a great week for pretty much any of the rest of us. Karlsson’s six shots on goal led the team that night, and his shot attempt share on the season is second among Sharks skaters who’ve played at least 20 games. In addition, first on that list is Karlsson’s defense partner, Brenden Dillon, so they both must be doing something right.

With the return to Ottawa out of the way, hopefully Karlsson can continue to improve as the team adapts around him, and help this squad try to put things together in a more consistent way.

Hono(u)rable mentions

Martin Jones: Jones has struggled mightily this season, as has been explored here many times, but his performance in Montreal was excellent and, as skeptical as I am, more of that kind of play would go a long way towards making this team dangerous over the long haul.

Patrick Marleau: With a goal against San Jose this week, Marleau has now scored a goal against all 31 NHL franchises. Go get ‘em, Patty.

The Buffalo Sabres: San Jose held the dubious honor of being the Sabres’ franchise record setting tenth straight win this week and, while their success was largely unsustainable, built on one goal and overtime wins, and they’ll have a hard time maintaining a playoff spot in the ultra competitive upper stratus of the Atlantic division, and Jeff Skinner’s shooting percentage is bound to regress at some point, let’s just let them have this. They’ve suffered long enough. Good on you, boys.