What Went Wrong: San Jose Sharks

The San Jose Sharks posted another quality regular season record in 2018-2019, finishing second in the Pacific Division and second in the Western Conference. They clinched their playoff spot in March and advanced to the Western Conference Final, eventually falling to the Blues in six games.

The Sharks produced a 46-27-9 record, good for 101 points – six behind the Calgary Flames for first in the Western Conference.

San Jose tied Calgary in goals for, with both clubs putting up 289.

The Sharks’ offence marked a significant uptick from 2017-2018, where they managed just 252 goals and were third in the Pacific Division despite still posting 45 wins.

San Jose saw four players score 30 or more goals in 2018-2019, including Evander Kane, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Joe Pavelski. Pavelski led the way with 38 goals, tying his career-best season in 2015-2016. Ironically, he managed his lowest assists total in the past six seasons with only 26.

Hertl’s 35 goals were a career-high, while Meier continued his steady stream of improvement by besting last year’s 21-goal campaign in every way. Kane’s 30 goals tied him with his previous career-high in 2011-2012 as a member of the Winnipeg Jets.

Logan Couture just missed the 30-goal mark, putting up a respectable 27 – seven shy of his 2017-2018 totals.

Defensively, the Sharks allowed 261 goals against. That took their goal differential to plus-28, third in the Western Conference. But in terms of pure goals against, San Jose was leakier than they needed to be. They allowed the most goals against of any Western Conference playoff team and more than the Vancouver Canucks, Anaheim Ducks, Minnesota Wild, and Arizona Coyotes.

2018-2019 marked Erik Karlsson’s debut as a Shark and the defensive slip didn’t help, even if Brent Burns and Co. largely drove the action from their own end. Burns led the team in overall points and remained the linchpin for all things D in San Jose, but Karlsson’s arrival signified a shift in fortunes.

In 2017-2018, the Sharks allowed just 229 goals against. That’s a pretty big drop from year to year.

Also, Karlsson was injured and limited to 53 games. It’s been argued in various netherworlds on the Internet that the Sharks were better without him in the lineup and that’s certainly contentious on paper, but much of this goes back to an adjustment period for both team and player.

Goaltending fell to Martin Jones, who started 62 games. That’s actually three fewer starts than the previous season (thanks, Aaron Dell). Despite this, Jones faced just as many shots as in 2017-2018 but allowed more goals. His goals against average sank to 2.94, the worst of his career, and his save percentage was likewise poor at .896.

In the post-season, Jones went 10-9 and posted worse numbers still.

Despite this, the Sharks made a decent go of it in the playoffs until they ran into the eventual Cup winners. San Jose took the first two rounds to the veritable limit, playing in back-to-back seven-game outings before tangling with St. Louis. By that time, injuries had played their role and the team was exhausted and depleted. The Blues took down the Sharks in six.

But the effort was noble and that’s why we find the Sharks with nominal additions thus far. A major deduction, the departure of Pavelski, has instead set the tone. And that’s going to have to be okay, as San Jose didn’t have the money anyway. With Karlsson signed to a new deal in June of 2019, this is a team with quantified intentions.

Those intentions, right or wrong, look very much the same. Jones and Dell will have another crack at turning around a lacklustre year in goal, Karlsson will have another chance to play a full season and the offence will have the opportunity to drive this team to the playoffs. And with Joe Thornton seeking one more year, it’s definitely now or never for these Sharks. Again.

Photo credit: John Hefti/USA TODAY Sports

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