Welcome to the latest installment of While You Were Away. We’ll be tracking stories you may have missed and players who are trending up or down. We’ll fill you in on roster transactions, make a few predictions and generally keep you updated on all things NHL beyond your favorite team.
Entering another busy weekend in the NHL, the San Jose Sharks are one of the hottest teams in the league. Winners of their last four, they’ve surged into second place in the Pacific Division. Thursday night the Sharks squeaked by a marginal Philadelphia Flyers team with a 1-0 overtime win. Sharks goalie Martin Jones stopped 34 shots for his third shutout of the year.
The Pacific Division certainly isn’t as stacked as its Western Conference counterpart, the Central Division, but there’s a few strong teams in there that could seriously contend. And while the Sharks have indeed won four straight, they shouldn’t be counted as one of those teams right now.
What’s more, the Sharks have relied too heavily on luck throughout their win streak. Each win came by one goal. They were outshot badly on Thursday against the Flyers and over their win streak they have been outshot three times. They did outshoot the Sabres, thought it was by a single shot.
The underlying numbers are even more telling. According to War on Ice, through their four game win streak their 5-on-5 Corsi% is a measly 42.4%, third worst in the league over that stretch of time. San Jose's shot totals and meek goal differential are issues on their own, but the fact that the Sharks are barely driving play is another problem, perhaps more ingrained in their style of play.
Their 5-on-5 PDO, which measures a team’s shooting percentage plus save percentage, is still a strong tool to measure a team's luck. Over this stretch, the Sharks’ PDO sits at 104.3, fourth highest in the NHL, a big indicator of their recent good fortunes.
Without the strong goaltending they’ve received from Jones, San Jose wouldn’t sit where it is today. Jones ranks seventh in goals-against average among goalies who've played 10 or more games. The team looks good on paper now and is making a case in the standings to be considered in the elite of its division. But we’ve seen teams like the Sharks have their luck run dry in the stretch when it counts all too often in the past.
Duchene has been the subject of trades talks as of late and his value has never been higher.
In Thursday's 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Duchene tallied two goals in a remarkable 22:59 of ice time. Those two goals extended Duchene’s point streak to five games, with an equally remarkable 11 points (six goals, five assists) over that span.
Just how good has Duchene been? Goals haven’t been the problem for the Avalanche, as they're tied for fourth in the Western Conference with 2.79 goals per game. But on a team with possession numbers as bad as Colorado’s are, Duchene is the key possession driver as well: his 5-on-5 CF% of 48.91 (via War on Ice) is highest among regular Avs skaters. He’s a bright light on an otherwise dull and dark team in terms of possession.
So should the team flip him now for what would certainly be a healthy package? If the team is confident it can lock up leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon long term, then a package of players may be worth entertaining.
However that also depends on how secure Colorado coach Patrick Roy’s job is. He’s been widely criticized for icing a team that plays an offensive-heavy but outdated style of play. Yes, he’s a recent Jack Adams Trophy winner but there’s nothing in the NHL rule book that says winning coach of the year guarantees job stability.
The Avalanche stand 12th among 14 teams in the Western Conference. If the change that will inevitably have to come is behind the bench, then Duchene is definitely worth keeping. A player who drives possession on a team that is so atrocious at doing so will certainly flourish under a coach who brings a different and more modern approach.