ANAHEIM, Calif. — What a difference a save makes.
That’s what David Quinn was saying after Eetu Makiniemi’s first NHL start in the San Jose Sharks’ 6-1 rout of the Anaheim Ducks.
The score, of course, wasn’t always lopsided. The Sharks were up 1-0 in the opening frame, on the power play, but penalty killers Frank Vatrano and Adam Henrique jumped out on a clear-cut 2-on-1.
— TEAL TOWN USA – A San Jose Sharks Podcast (@TEALTOWNUSA) December 10, 2022
“This game might take on a whole new complexion on that 2-on-1 if they get the shorthanded [goal] on the first power play. It’s amazing what one play can do early in the game when a goalie makes a big save,” Quinn offered. “We’re a little demoralized, they get life, and the whole game can change. To come out of that period 1-0 instead of 1-1 is big.”
Makiniemi would stop 23-of-24 shots for his first NHL victory.
The goaltending has arguably been the biggest difference between the Sharks this year and San Jose last season, through 30 games.
That’s a surface evaluation: Last year at this point, Reimer was one of the best goalies in the NHL with a 9-5-1 record and a .936 Save %. Adin Hill couldn’t quite keep up with a 6-9-0 record and a .900 Save %.
This season though, Reimer is just 5-8-2 with a .903 Save %. Kaapo Kahkonen is 3-6-2 with an .877 Save %.
Reimer, actually, got off to a strong start this year, but he struggled in two of his last three starts before his Nov. 28 placement on IR. Kahkonen has been up-and-down the entire campaign, almost alternating one quality start with two bad ones.
It’s not just the men behind the mask, of course.
Looking under the hood, you have to give some credit to Bob Boughner for creating a better defensive environment for his goalies last season. I don’t think Quinn’s defensive environment is bad, but it just hasn’t been as solid so far, and the numbers, counting and underlying, bear that out.
Here’s a comparison of Quinn’s 9-16-5 Sharks and Bob Boughner’s 15-14-1 side last year through 30 contests.
|Per Natural Stat Trick/SPORTLOGiQ||2021-22||2022-23|
|GF||2.60 (27th in NHL)||3.07 (20)|
|GA||2.80 (14)||3.57 (25)|
|PP %||18.9 (17)||21.8 (20)|
|PK %||85.3 (5)||84.9 (2)|
|Save %||90.8 (20)||88.42 (28)|
|5v5 Save %||92.36 (16)||89.56 (31)|
|5v5 HDCF/60||11.24 (11)||13.0 (10)|
|5v5 HDCA/60||10.36 (10)||10.45 (6)|
|5v5 HDCF %||52.04 (13)||55.44 (7)|
|5v5 xGF %||50.08 (16)||50.97 (15)|
|Quality Chances For||27th in NHL||21st in NHL|
|Quality Chances Against||5th in NHL||19th in NHL|
|Rush Chances Against||4th in NHL||31st in NHL|
(Per SPORTLOGiQ, Quality Chances are Grade-A and B scoring chances combined — SPORTLOGiQ’s scoring chance model has more nuance, insofar that it factors in shot location and angle, and pre-shot movement, among other elements)
Quinn’s Sharks are finishing better than Boughner’s, through 30 games. But those gains have been outstripped by defensive and goaltending losses.
Of particular concern, and because Quinn has harped on it, Rush Chances Against stand out.
“A lot of our rush chances [against] have come from possession in the offensive zone,” Quinn said two weeks ago. “It’s having total control of the puck in the O-zone, all of a sudden, there’s an odd-man rush.”
Here’s an example of what Quinn is talking about, how the Sharks are turning total possession into an odd-man rush the other way.
— NHL Česko (@NHLcz) December 5, 2022
To that point, along with Makiniemi’s clutch netminding, the Sharks did a better job of not putting him out to dry. Per SPORTLOGiQ, San Jose enjoyed an 8-3 Scoring Chances Off the Rush and 6-4 Odd-Man Rushes count over Anaheim.
“I really thought we found a balance of recognizing when offense was presented to us and when not to force it,” Quinn said. “Probably as good job as we’ve done all year long in that area.”
It’s the classic San Jose Sharks conversation: Is it the goaltending’s fault? Is it the defense’s? Of course, as always, they’re related, interconnected elements.
The Sharks have gone without both for too many games over the last three-plus seasons.
Last night, we saw how nice it was to have both.
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