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Behind The Numbers

Sharks can recover to get back into contention like Blues did last season

Underlying statistics suggest improved goaltending, power play can boost San Jose

by Rob Reese @NHLReese / Staff Writer

The St. Louis Blues were tied for last place in the NHL on Jan. 1 of last year, but they turned their season around and won the Stanley Cup. The San Jose Sharks, viewed in the preseason as a Cup contender, are tied for last in the Western Conference this season. Behind the Numbers looks at where the Sharks are this season, and to see if San Jose has a chance to do what St. Louis did last season. 

A goaltending change and a shakeup to their top power-play unit could be what the San Jose Sharks (17-21-3) need to piece together a run like the St. Louis Blues made last season, going from last in the NHL to winning the Stanley Cup. 

Despite having below-average goaltending, the Sharks have the best penalty kill in the NHL at 87.9 percent and their plus-15 shot attempts differential is 14th in the NHL. 

The underlying statistics seem to imply that even a small improvement in goaltending would lead to more wins for the Sharks, which could help them qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Blues made up significant ground last season when goalie Jordan Binnington was given the full-time starter role. His first victory was against the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 7, and he finished the regular season 24-5-1 including five shutouts and a .930 save percentage. To show how much of an impact Binnington made, the Blues were 27th (90.6) in 5-on-5 save percentage from the start of last season until Jan. 1, then were fourth (93.4) the rest of the season. 

The impact of having a clear-cut No. 1 goalie also was reflected in penalty kill percentage. The Blues ranked 18th (78.7 percent) through Jan. 1, and then finished the last season fifth (84.8 percent). It's likely that Binnington's .885 save percentage (11th among goalies to play at least 20 games since Jan. 1) when facing the opposing teams power play was the missing ingredient for the Blues penalty kill. What Binnington was able to accomplish in such a short amount of time is nothing shy of remarkable and it would be difficult for any team to recreate that success.

The Sharks are not only last in the NHL in 5-on-5 save percentage at 88.6 percent, they are the only NHL team under 90 percent. No. 1 goalie Martin Jones is 13-15-1 with an .893 save percentage through 30 games and backup Aaron Dell is 4-6-2 with a .900 save percentage in 15 appearances.

Video: VGK@SJS: Dell makes save on Stephenson

Unlike the Blues, who had Binnington playing well prior to being called up last season (.927 save percentage) for San Antonio of the American Hockey League, the Sharks have two minor-league options in Josef Korenar and Andrew Shortidge, each playing below a .900 save percentage. It would be a tall task for either Sharks minor-league goalie to be called up and perform anywhere close to the level of Binnington, who tied Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning with 24 wins in the final 30 games last season.

Without many in-house options, they may have to look for outside help prior to the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24.

An additional area to improve upon for the Sharks would be their power play, which is 29th in the NHL (14.3 percent). For reference, the Blues had of power play percentage of 20.4 percent through Jan. 1 last season, which was 16th in the League. 

They finished the second half at 21.8 without making any moves at the trade deadline. If the Sharks were to follow suit and not add any forward help at the deadline, they would need a significant improvement from their current top unit of forwards Logan Couture, Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl and defensemen Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. The Shark' power play percentage is 14.3 percent, which is 29th in the NHL. One adjustment San Jose could make is putting forward Kevin Labanc, who had 20 power-play points last season, back on the first power play. 

The Sharks had the sixth-best (23.6 percent) power play last season when Labanc was a fixture on the first unit. 

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