Nothing about the San Jose Sharks playoff series with the Vegas Golden Knights makes much sense. In two games, the Sharks have been the clearly better team. Strong goaltending, mostly solid defense and power hockey have been the formula for success.
In the three games between the the two Sharks wins sit three Sharks defeats. In those games, the Sharks netminding has been shaky, the defense leaky and the offense absent for long stretches, punctuated by an occasional scoring spike which takes place over about two minutes.
San Jose Sharks Jekyll and Hyde
The biggest Jekyll and Hyde performer has been goalie Martin Jones. He had a strong opening game, but proceeded to stop very little in his next three appearances. In two of the three, Jones was pulled from the game before the second period. His ‘goals against average’ was well over 7.0, a sickening number considering there has yet to be an NHL playoff game where a team scored seven goals into a manned net.
In Game 5, over the objection of numerous Sharks fans, head coach Peter DeBoer turned to Jones and he delivered. A solid outing with several strong saves led up to a brilliant save, among the best of the playoffs, with seven minutes left in the final period and the Sharks clinging to a 3-2 lead. Two Sharks (Logan Couture and Timo Meier) did not backcheck hard, another (Erik Karlsson) misread the play leaving Jones to face a 2-on-1 odd-man rush — and he bailed the Sharks out. Jones was named third star of the game. Just hours earlier, many fans felt he deserved no better than third on the team’s goalie depth chart.
Key Sharks Differences
There are noteworthy differences between when the Sharks played well and when they didn’t. Over the years, many insightful Sharks supporters understood Marc-Edouard Vlasic was perhaps the team’s most important player. Vlasic played in the series opener, a 5-2 Sharks win, then left with an injury in Game 2 with the score 3-3. Vlasic returned for Game 5, another 5-2 Sharks win. In his presence, the Sharks have outscored the Golden Knights 13-7. In is absence, Vegas has outscored San Jose 13-3.
Erik Karlsson has not skated particularly well during the series and at times, it was quite poor. The elite defenseman is injured and it shows. But some games it showed much more than others. In Game 1 and Game 5, he looked pretty healthy. In the games in between, he didn’t. Karlsson was on the ice at 5-on-5 for just one goal for the Sharks and seven against in the three losses. In the two wins, three goals for the Sharks and just one against. The eyeballs and results agreed. Even if it makes little sense he’d get healthier as the series continues.
Sharks and Golden Knights, Game 6
Which Sharks team will show up for Game 6 in Las Vegas? I couldn’t tell you. DeBoer rolled the dice in Game 5 and got a positive aberration from Martin Jones. Will the positives continue or will he regress in Game 6?
Will Erik Karlsson skate smoothly in more than one direction? Will the Sharks get dragged into foolish penalties by Ryan Reaves and the Golden Knights’ fourth line? Heck, will the referees stop allowing Reaves to hold Sharks players for 12 seconds at a time? Yeah, that really did happen (I timed it, too), with an official telling Reaves to let go almost the entire time.
More meaningfully, will the Sharks stop allowing odd-man rushes and quick strike opportunities to the Golden Knights? Will they take the puck behind the net on offense where they create good chances and draw penalties? Will they click on the power play and finally stop the bleeding on the penalty kill?
I can say this. If the Sharks team which showed up in Game 1 and Game 5, shows up again in Game 6, there is a very good chance this series goes to Game 7. If it is the Sharks team which showed up in the games in between, you won’t need to wait until the end of the game to know the outcome of the game. Or the series.
Two wild card teams completed first round upsets. One knocked off the top team in the league, the Tampa Bay Lightning representing the Eastern Conference. The other knocked of the Calgary Flames, the top team in the Western Conference. I’ve been saying this for years — it doesn’t matter where a team finishes in the regular season. The data backs it up. My first take on the issue from 2016 holds up – the story remains the same. Just get in the playoffs and your team, as long as it doesn’t have a long list of injuries, has as good a chance as any other.