Playoff Power Rankings Week 1: A night without armor

Sharks are going Stone crazy.

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, postseason power rankings are prone to being particularly mercurial.

As seems to be the case every series and every postseason, officiating has been a story of the San Jose Sharks’ first round series against the Vegas Golden Knights. After the officials in San Jose appeared to have misplaced their whistles for long stretches of Game 1, eventually awarding four power plays to the Knights and five to the Sharks, they seemed to dig around their couch cushions in time for Friday night’s Game 2. The Sharks’ special teams languished that night, scoring once on eight opportunities and allowing two shorthanded goals, while the Knights scored on one of their three power plays.

Things came to a head last night in Vegas where the zebras handed out 36 minutes in penalties, making it abundantly clear to anyone watching that a great deal of this series was going to be decided by special teams.

In lieu of talking about the doom and gloom and sadness at the forefront of all of our minds after last night’s disappointing performance, I’d like to propose a solution to two common problems with NHL hockey: bad officiating and long, frivolous coach’s challenges. I propose we expand the coach’s challenge, wait, where are you going?

Hear me out: coaches still get just one challenge, but they can challenge anything. Goaltender interference? Sure. High sticking? Go for it. Not a tripping call, but maybe it should have been? Challenge that. Further, a minor change to how the challenge affects future play should be in effect: the challenge costs your time out, right or wrong. Coaches will be able to use a challenge in more situations, but only once, and only if the call is important.

The last part may be the most important to the casual fan. From the moment the challenge is issued, the officials have two minutes to come to a conclusion, or the call on the ice automatically stands.

The play that started this conversation during Game 2 on Friday night was a goal called off due to alleged goaltender interference when Logan Couture was pushed into Marc-Andre Fleury. The play was not reviewable since the infraction occurred before the puck went into the net, so there was technically no goal to challenge. Under this system, head coach Peter DeBoer could have challenged the goaltender interference penalty and prevented the two-goal swing that the ... ahem ... controversial call caused. Okay? Good job, friends, we fixed it.

Mr. Bettman, my phone line is open. Like, pretty much all the time.

1. Joe Thornton

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week312332844.65

At 39 years old, Joe Thornton is still a legend on skates. While San Jose’s top-six was largely tied up with Vegas’ devastating forward corps, Thornton’s third line took advantage of a mismatch further down the lineup in Games 1 and 2. Aside from an errant high hit on Tomas Nosek late in Game 3, the consequences of which are not yet known, Thornton has been a brighter spot in an otherwise dismal Sharks week.

Thornton took a page out of his captain’s playbook here, deftly tipping a Brenden Dillon point shot-pass past Fleury to cap a wild first period comeback in Game 2. As usual, what was fully on display was Joe’s cleverness, his hockey sense and his love for this stupid game. The keys to this play working are Joe Pavelski taking up real estate in front of the net to draw Shea Theodore away from Thornton, and the latter’s positioning well outside of what is normally considered tipping territory. When Dillon shot well wide of the net, no one was there to impede the puck’s path.

2. Joe Pavelski

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week311222951.25

While Pavelski’s numbers in three games were fine, the reason he makes this list is related to how he scored his only goal of the postseason. Jostling for position in the Vegas crease with Fleury and Nick Holden, as he is wont to do, Pavelski deflected a Brent Burns bomb into the net for a goal. That all sounds perfectly normal except this time he did it with his face. While definitely (hopefully) not an intentional strategy on the captain’s part, his willingness to not only return to the game, but to do so with a vengeance, intercepting a Vegas pass right off the bench and throwing hits into the corners on his first shift, showed why he was made captain of this team in the first place.

Sorry, Cap, when you go to the net, good things happen, but sometimes those things are also very painful and terrible.

3. Erik Karlsson

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week305540149.05

Erik Karlsson is an interesting case this week. At times, he’s looked like the dominant gamebreaker the Sharks traded for in the off-season, the generational defenseman who dragged the Ottawa Senators to the Eastern Conference Final in 2017 with one leg. At other times, he’s looked slow and behind the play, very much the victim of a mysterious groin injury that sidelined him for close to 30 games of the regular season. While Karlsson led the Sharks in points this week, tallying four primary assists, he was also on the ice for nine of the Knights’ 11 goals in Games 2 and 3. Still he’ll stay on these rankings for as long as he’s doing things like this in teal:

During a rare moment of regulation 3-on-3, Karlsson used an effective pick play to take Max Pacioretty out of the equation for Burns’ entry. While Pacioretty recovered from the “accidental” collision with Karlsson, Burns skated in and fired the puck past Nate Schmidt and into the far side of the Vegas net. Much has been made of San Jose’s use of pick plays in this series, and maybe the officials are getting tired of it (see: Kevin Labanc’s interference penalty late in Game 3), but it’s an effective strategy for as long as it works.

4. Logan Couture

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week3224321458.46

Another player hampered temporarily by injury, Couture’s contributions to the team remain significant. Despite taking a puck to the nether regions in Game 2, Couture returned to the game and valiantly failed to shut down Vegas’ absurdly talented “second” line. Still, four points in three games is not worth nothing and, with injuries up and down the lineup being a key narrative to this series, coming back from something as painful as what Couture endured is worth accolades.

With quick passing plays like these, the shooter needs to open up their body position to accommodate both receipt of a cross-crease pass and the subsequent shot. Couture’s left food was a giveaway on this play, as he opened his hips up laterally to face Pavelski across the ice, he let his left foot drag behind him so that he could continue in the same direction while making it appear that he’s stopping in the crease. Any deception is huge on quick plays and in front of a smart, play-reading goalie like Fleury.

5. Timo Meier

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week310114558.82

While Timo Meier had been held largely off the score sheet until last night, his impact on the game was still noticeable. Of only six Sharks skaters with a score- and venue-adjusted 5-on-5 shot-attempt share above 50 percent, Meier’s led the group. As dominant as Vegas has been at even strength in this series, Meier has pushed the tide in the other direction and, if the Sharks are going to climb out of this hole they started digging four weeks ago, Meier will be at the front of the pack.

Hono(u)rable mentions

Tomas Hertl: Hertl dominated Game 1 of this series, seemingly unstoppable at every point on the ice.

Kevin Labanc: At times, Labanc looked like he was trying to do a little too much in the last two games, but when his schemes and plans work, they are certainly effective.

Mark Stone: Our concerns about Vegas acquiring Stone appear to have been well-founded. With six goals so far, including his first career hat trick last night, Stone leads the NHL post season, and will have to be solved. Soon.