The San Jose Sharks finished March with a record of 8-7-2. They scored 46 goals and gave up 49. Hardly a resounding success, but in both January and February, they had a goal differential of minus-9, so a minus-3 is an improvement. They still sit in seventh place in the Honda West Division, four points behind the slumping St. Louis Blues. Their March record has kept whatever slim playoff hopes they had alive. Here are the Sharks’ Three Stars of March:
Third Star: Erik Karlsson
Erik Karlsson is on pace for 37 points in a full 82-game season as of March 31. This would be his worst scoring season since his rookie campaign back in 2009-10. Karlsson missed four games in February due to a lower-body injury and before his hiatus, he looked as if he was struggling to skate and made decisions with the puck. Since his return, Karlsson looks rejuvenated. His skating looks much improved. He is jumping into the offense more and the results are finally starting to show.
Karlsson’s 0.59 points per game in March tie him with Brent Burns and Ryan Donato for fourth on the team. There’s no question he has been more of a factor and if the Sharks have any illusions of a playoff push, they will need this to continue. Prior to his two-goal game on March 29, Karlsson had generated a fair amount of chances, but teammates were not converting. I suppose he decided to take matters into his own hands by just putting the puck in the net himself.
He still has ways to go to be a solid contributor on this Sharks team. According to Evolving Hockey, Karlsson is only ahead of Mario Ferraro in expected goals for per 60 minutes this season. In addition to not being very likely to produce offensively, Karlsson has been the worst defenseman on the Sharks at allowing goals as indicated by the expected goals against per 60 minutes. These numbers are the worst of his career, so if he can get back to some semblance of his past self, he could be a great contributor for the Sharks. Part of this is likely due to his turnover rate, which has increased each month with 2.0 per 60 minutes in January, 2.6 in February, and 2.7 in March. There is still plenty of room for improvement – he needs to cut these down to stop hurting the team more than he’s helping.
Second Star: Evander Kane
With 16 points in 17 games, Evander Kane had a great month. His 0.94 points per game places him in the top 40 of NHL forwards for the month. Not bad for a forward on the 20th-best offensive team in the league. His points per game pace also led the Sharks for the month, but just barely over Tomas Hertl who had 0.92 points per game. Kane has been around a point per game since the beginning of February after a slow month of January where he collected just 0.63 points per game.
Kane is on a 73-point pace for a full 82-game season, which would be his most prolific scoring season to date. This comes despite Kane being surrounded by arguably his least talented group of teammates of his NHL career. According to Money Puck, he does have at least one more goal than expected so perhaps he is due to regress just a little.
The Sharks will need Kane to continue to produce at the current rate if they want to continue this run of getting points. There aren’t very many other options to score on the team, though captain Logan Couture has been good most of the season and both Kevin LaBanc and Timo Meier seem to be heating up lately. Perhaps Kane’s production is infectious. The Sharks can only hope so.
First Star: Martin Jones
It’s no secret that Martin Jones has struggled in net for the Sharks for the past several years. You have to go back to 2017-18 to find a save percentage (SV%) above .900 for the season. 2020-21 started off fairly mixed for Jones as he had two great outings in January that were very good with a .919 and .957 SV%, but in his other three starts, he had a .809 SV%.
February was mostly just bad as he sported a .871 SV%. There were two outings near the end of the month against the Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues that were quite good, perhaps hinting at what was to come. March has seen Jones post five quality starts out of seven and four in a row from the 15th to the 24th. A quality start is when the goalie stops more than the median save percentage for the league, which is currently .917. Nov. 23-30. 2019 was the last time Jones had four straight quality starts.
Even more impressive are Jones’ advanced statistics for the month of March where he posted 1.43 goals above expected and 2.03 goals saved above average in the month. He hadn’t been positive in both of those categories since February of 2020. Devan Dubnyk, on the other hand, continues to have negative advanced numbers during his time in San Jose. It seems that the Sharks want to continue to ride Jones and, if he keeps playing like this, why not?
Who is Next?
I didn’t think either of the goalies would get a star this whole season, but here we are. We’ve already had a rookie in Nikolai Knyzhov for January. Perhaps another rookie or one of the other young forwards will take a big step forward – that would be music to the ears of Sharks fans everywhere.
Victor Nuño is a physician in private practice in Santa Cruz and an associate professor of osteopathic manipulative medicine at Touro University in California. He is an avid hockey fan ever since the San Jose Sharks joined the NHL in 1991. He plays, watches, and consumes everything related to hockey, but especially the Sharks and AHL affiliate Barracuda. In addition, he is a father to two beautiful young girls and husband to a wonderful wife. Follow me @VictorNuno12