So for the first time all second round, I have decided to look at a series that isn’t Caps-Penguins to see what’s going on over there. To the dismay of Penguins fans everywhere, hockey is actually played in other places around the world. And yes, Primanti Brothers Lovers, they do play hockey in Las Vegas, Nevada and San Jose, California.
That is where I found myself last night watching two teams that I don’t have the biggest grasp on. Vegas keeps on being the expansion team that surprises everyone, regardless of what you feel about the roster beforehand. San Jose keeps on being the veteran NHL club that’s a little too veteran to my liking but keeps punching above their weight.
In all, this series has been surprisingly entertaining. Both teams have one blowout win and another win in which the last goal was scored past regulation. Both teams also have one game where the power play count was waaaaaaaaay over-skewed in their favor (10-5 Golden Knights in Game 1 and 7-2 Sharks in Game 2). If there is a difference between the two sides, it’s that until last night’s Game 4, Vegas was the only team in control in the puck possession battle.
In fact, even after Game 4, only six Sharks players are in the green when it comes to puck possession. Among them actually happened to be somebody that could be a difference maker this postseason. At 24, Joakim Ryan has been a major contributor to San Jose’s defense corps in the absence of Paul Martin. In fact, Ryan was basically a like-for-like swap with Martin who was dealing with an ankle injury all regular season. That injury kept Martin out all but 14 games, and in the process allowed Ryan to play 769 minutes of even strength ice time with Burns. While they were together, the Sharks had 54.3% puck possession.
But let’s not ignore the fact that Martin was no slouch either. While not the greatest of puck movers, Martin was a strong complementary piece with every team he played for throughout his 14-year NHL career, including the early 2010s Penguins, the 2016 Sharks and the mid to late 2000s New Jersey Devils. Even at 36, Martin still was able to whip up a 55.5% puck possession advantage while he was on the ice while playing almost all his even strength ice time with Burns. All those minutes mostly happened within the last 11 games of the regular season, which meant sitting the highly productive rookie to the press box via healthy scratches. It’s a fate too cruel, but he’s not even the only player in the series to go through that during his career.
However, Martin’s age has really begun to show this postseason. Despite having the Martin-Burns pair playing against secondary competition while Marc Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun pair played against the top dogs, Martin has been absolutely awful this second-round series. Even if you think a team-worst -4 plus-minus during the Vegas series shouldn’t matter because plus-minus is always a dumb stat, a 42.6% puck possession during that span certainly isn’t any joke. Add in the fact that Braun has been performing much worse at 42.1% puck possession and Vlasic was sitting at 46.0% puck possession while doing what they can to defend the white-hot Jonathan Marchessault-Reilly Smith-William Karlsson line and something had to change.
Cometh the man. Cometh the hour. Ryan not only stepped right in and brought much-improved balance along the blue line, but he was able to not give Vegas’ secondary scorers the benefit of the doubt. In particular, he was able to wipe the floor with Cody Eakin in on-ice attempts 9-3 and Alex Tuch 6-2. That in itself put more pressure on Vegas’ top line to get the job done on their own and thus, San Jose was able to be freer within the offensive zone.
Things also helped that Martin Jones’ mojo is back. In the first three games of the series, Sharks fans must have feared the worse for their team, especially when staring at Jones’ 84.0% save percentage during that span. But after his third career playoff shutout, you forget how much of an impact the former Los Angeles King has had since becoming the starter for the Sharks. Jones is already third all-time with his 102 wins while playing for San Jose, and his 92.7% save percentage in the postseason is the third highest since 2015-16 with 15 playoff games or more behind Jake Allen (!!!) and the man across from him: Marc Andre-Fleury. The more he outplays him, the better the Sharks chances are spoiling the party of the greatest story this NHL season.