The San Jose Sharks are finding ways to win hockey games despite not always bringing their “A” game so far in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Sharks decisively ousted the Los Angles Kings in only five games and put to rest the ghosts of their 2014 “reverse sweep” postseason collapse. Thus far in two games against the Nashville Predators, the Sharks have protected home ice, as they always have against the Predators in the playoffs. Nashville has never won a playoff game in San Jose, and now is 0-6 lifetime at SAP Center and now face the NHL’s best road team for two games in Nashville. Three keys have sparked these wins: The Joes, Home Plate, and Martin Jones.
Sharks Finding Ways to Win
Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski have been key players for the Sharks for years but have both further elevated their play this season. Joe Thornton’s offensive production continues at his best rate in years despite facing the opposition’s shutdown lines and defensemen. Captain Joe Pavelski shares the playoff goal-scoring lead with six goals, including the game-winner in Game 2, when the Sharks were pushed to the limit by the Predators but escaped with a 3-2 victory. The Joes are the leaders of this team, and thus far both have been instrumental in two home-ice victories.
Exploiting and Defending Home Plate
Pekka Rinne has been nearly identical to his career postseason average, but so far it has not been enough against the Sharks. As previously discussed, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne has been below average in the home plate area of the ice, and this extremely dangerous section of ice has been where the Sharks have inflicted the most amount of damage. With seven of their eight goals coming from this area in the first two games, the Nashville defense has not been able to keep San Jose to the perimeter of the offensive zone, a staple of their overall team defense. Conversely, the Sharks have done an excellent job limiting chances in front of their net while capitalizing on the soft center of the Predators defense.
Martin Jones Key in Home Wins
The Sharks were faced with a tough decision but made the right call starting Martin Jones in Game 1 against the LA Kings. James Reimer had forced his way into the conversation with his stellar play since arriving from Toronto, and many fans wondered if Reimer’s experience might be the better choice. But Jones will be the Sharks netminder for at least the next two seasons beyond the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and head coach Peter DeBoer know he could not damage that confidence inside the first year. Since getting the nod, Jones has been fantastic as the final line of the Sharks defense, especially down low near the goal crease. Comparing Jones play thus far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the remaining starting goaltenders (the two-headed Dallas monster of Antti Niemi/Kari Lehtonen, St. Louis’ Brian Elliott and of course Pekka Rinne) the Sharks have to like their chances of winning the Western Conference comes down to a battle of goaltending. Jones has improved his overall save percentage from .912 against the Kings to a lofty .943 in the first two games against the Predators. If Jones can continue providing the Sharks with this level of quality starts, an extended spring could be ahead.
The Sharks took 30 minutes to shake off the rust in Game 1 before cruising to a 5-2 victory. In Game 2, Martin Jones, Joe Pavelski, and Joe Thronton stole a win from the Predators and the game metrics bear this out as well. But there the real issue facing Nashville: the San Jose Sharks, the NHL’s best road team this season, have not yet a complete or even their best game in this series. Last Word on Sports predicted a Sharks series win in six games, but if the Sharks can figure out a way to finally play a full 60-minute game, the Predators might have taken their last road trip of the season.