In a Feb. 26 matchup against the Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks star defenseman Erik Karlsson aggravated a groin injury and hasn’t played since. However, the Sharks have managed to win all six games in the month of March with Karlsson on the shelf.
One of the deepest teams in the NHL, San Jose has also been without top-six winger Evander Kane during this win streak. The offense has been just fine, though, with a goal differential of plus-12 while averaging over four goals per game this month. Perhaps the biggest reason for their recent success is the elite play from netminder Martin Jones.
Jones Catching Fire at the Perfect Time
While Jones’ season has been lackluster, he’s kicking into gear just in time for the postseason push. During his personal five-game winning streak, he’s posted a 1.78 goals-against average (GAA) and .934 save percentage. In his most recent outing, he turned aside all 24 shots from the Minnesota Wild in a 3-0 victory.
The 29-year-old’s season can be summed up in one word: inconsistent. This is his third winning streak of five or more games. His best run this season was an eight-game streak in December and January, but his numbers – a .918 save percentage and 2.26 GAA – were noticeably worse than on his current run.
For the 2018-19 campaign, Jones has registered career worsts in GAA (2.83) and save percentage (.900). Prior to the winning streak, his save percentage was under .900 and his GAA was quickly approaching 3.00. Luckily, and mostly due to San Jose’s elite offense, Jones is still tied for the league-lead in wins with 34.
In Tuesday’s game against Winnipeg Jets, Jones got the night off. Backup Aaron Dell managed to earn the win despite coughing up four goals on 25 shots. Like Jones, Dell is having his worst season as an NHL goalie, with a 3.06 GAA and .889 save percentage.
The Sharks’ goaltending was arguably the biggest question heading into the season and it’s been the only thing holding the team back at times. The team ranks second in goals scored this season (behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning) but are around league-average in goals allowed. While they’re likely the team to beat in the Western Conference, it’s up to Jones to continue his high level of play if the team expects to make a deep postseason run.
Sharks Finding Scoring Throughout the Lineup
Without two of their top skaters, Karlsson and Kane, during the Sharks’ six-game stretch, the same 18 skaters have suited up for every game. Fifteen of those players have recorded at least two points, including all 12 forwards. The team’s top skaters, Brent Burns, Logan Couture, and Joe Pavelski have combined for just three goals and 10 points during their win streak. Instead, over the last two weeks, the offense has revolved around Timo Meier and Marcus Sorensen.
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) March 13, 2019
Meier and Sorensen have pocketed five goals each while combining for 14 points this month. Prior to that stretch, Sorensen’s last five goals were spread across 28 games dating back to mid-December. Fourth-line winger Melker Karlsson buried a pair of goals in their Mar. 3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Meier is a top-six winger and technically may not be considered a “secondary” scorer. However, he’s scored 26 goals this season, well ahead of the 21-goal output he posted during the 2017-18 campaign. He’s taken a huge step forward and has risen to the occasion to make up for injuries.
Another under-the-radar player having a breakout season is Tomas Hertl. The 25-year-old is second on the roster with 63 points and is tied for the team lead with seven points during the win streak. It’s his first time crossing the 30-goal mark as well as his first 50-point campaign.
In place of Karlsson, Tim Heed has had mixed results. He tallied four assists during a four-game span this month and has seen an uptick in his ice time. He’s been on the ice for 12 goals during 5-on-5 play in the last six games, and 10 of those were in favor of San Jose. One of the few knocks on his play during this streak is his 47.2 Corsi percentage, the worst on the team.
As February drew to a close, San Jose was seven points behind the Calgary Flames for the top spot in the Pacific Division. Now, thanks to some help from the Flames after the trade deadline, the Sharks sit atop the division with a one-point lead.
There’s a good chance for the Sharks to extend their streak with a three-game homestand starting on Thursday against the Florida Panthers. With Jones’ confidence rising and a full squad of Sharks contributing, San Jose appears to be the biggest threat out west after their recent hot streak.
Tyler Bowen is a University of South Florida graduate and lifelong hockey fan. Tyler covers the Pittsburgh Penguins for thehockeywriters.com. You can usually find him obsessing over his fantasy teams and looking for his next gambling tip.