It’s not just a pipe dream for the San Jose Sharks anymore.
Now let’s be honest: The San Jose Sharks didn’t do a lot to get themselves within four points of the St. Louis Blues and the fourth and final playoff spot. Sure, they’ve just swept third-place Minnesota, and in impressive fashion. But mostly, the 15-16-4 Sharks can credit a recent 2-5-4 Blues’ slide.
This, by the way, is the closest that San Jose has been to a playoff berth since Feb. 23, when a 7-8-2 squad was three points behind fourth-place Los Angeles.
But the seventh-place Sharks do have a lot going for them:
- San Jose’s next seven games are against last-place Anaheim or sixth-place Los Angeles
- 15 of slumping St. Louis’s next 16 games are against Vegas, Colorado, or Minnesota
- Fifth-place Arizona has just embarked on a season-long nine-game road trip
The San Jose Sharks also have something else going for them: They actually played really well against the Wild. If the San Jose can bottle up what they did right on Monday and Wednesday, I wouldn’t count them out.
So yes, I’m saying there’s a chance. But here’s what they’ll have to do, from likely to most unlikely.
SUSTAIN DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT
After the San Jose Sharks started the season 3-5-0, they got a surprising week off because of various COVID-related reasons. But they didn’t rest on their laurels: They refined what they were trying to achieve offensively and adjusted their defensive systems.
Since Feb. 5, San Jose’s first contest after their week-long break, the Sharks have proven to be an average to above-average offensive team. This is now SPORTLOGiQ sees it:
- On Feb. 5, the San Jose Sharks ranked 26th in the NHL in Even Strength Inner Slot Shots For. They’re now fifth.
- San Jose was 20th in the league in ES Odd-Man Rushes. They’re now ninth.
Per Natural Stat Trick, the Sharks were 23th in the NHL at 8.47 High-Danger Corsi For Per 60 at 5-on-5. Since Feb. 5, they’re third in the league at 12.26. So San Jose is averaging almost four more High-Danger Chances a game now – that’s a lot.
Boughner wanted the Sharks to be faster and earn more scoring chances in more dangerous areas. They are, and while the goals haven’t come rushing in, they’re at least middle of the pack: Since Feb. 5, San Jose is 15th in the NHL at 2.55 ES Goals Per 60.
For what it’s worth, they were 24th in the league in this category before Feb. 5.
But you figure a team headlined by Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson and Logan Couture and Evander Kane would be at least decent offensively. It was team defense that was the question.
And while that hasn’t improved as dramatically as the offense, it’s better.
- On Feb. 5, the San Jose Sharks were 30th in the NHL in ES Shots On Net From the Slot Against. They’re 22nd now.
- San Jose was last in the league in ES Odd-Man Rushes Against. They’re 25th now.
This edition of the Sharks will probably never be a great defensive team, but can they continue to improve? Work their way closer to average?
They’re getting there: Before Feb. 5, San Jose was giving up 3.92 ES Goals Against Per 60. Since then, they’re 22nd at 2.85. So there’s legitimate improvement, even if they’re still below-average.
Overall, the San Jose Sharks were fast, strong, and tight defensively in their back-to-back victories over Minnesota. The stats bore this out: The Sharks earned a 22-12 High-Danger at 5-on-5 advantage in this series.
“That is the blueprint for how we want to play. Systematically, this is the style here that we need to play to have success,” Boughner said. “I liked how aggressive we were in the D-zone jumping the check, we didn’t give much. We blocked shots. I thought we were really physical tonight. And yeah, we played a lot in the O-zone.”
“I honestly think we have another couple gears,” Ryan Donato offered.
Burns & Karlsson Revival
If the San Jose Sharks find another gear, it’s likely because Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson have found one too.
They’ve both been inconsistent this season, as I alluded to here. There’s no surprise that San Jose is essentially a .500 team – their two greatest players, accounting for nearly a quarter of their cap space, haven’t been great this year, merely good. With a shallow roster, the Sharks need great. But that’s what they were last night, at both ends of the ice, churning out highlight play after highlight play.
“They were catalysts for the offense,” Boughner said, “but also, you saw Erik, how hard he defended tonight. Burnzie, how hard he defended.”
In some ways, it was turn-back-the-clock performances for the 36-year-old Burns and the 30-year-old Karlsson – can they keep it up?
Stop the Puck
So the San Jose Sharks appear to be above-average offensively, below-average defensively – can the goaltending tip the balance? For three years and running, Martin Jones has tipped the balance, but mostly the wrong way, so I’m not holding my breath.
But credit to Jones, who’s 5-1-1 with a .934 Save % since Mar. 13. He’s played well recently: Can he find a consistent gear that he hasn’t had for three years?
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