Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Donskoi, Meier, Labanc: Keys to Sharks' Survival without Marleau and Thornton

How have the Sharks managed to survive the loss of Patrick Marleau all season and Joe Thornton since January 23rd? The steady rise and improvement of three players--Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier and Joonas Donskoi.

Sure there are a lot of reasons the Sharks are winning games other than these three. We could talk about Logan Couture, the team's best offensive player all season, or look to the improved offensive play of Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The rise of Chris Tierney as a bottom six center has also been a nice development. But we said at the beginning of the season that Meier and Labanc would have to take a stop, and we also believed that Donskoi and Tomas Hertl would have to re-establish themselves as threats. They all have. We'll leave Hertl for another discussion. For now let's look at how much better each of the three aforementioned players have been at 5-on-5:

Donskoi: Goals per 60 have risen to .83 from .41 at 5-on-5. Points per 60 up to 1.88 from .98.

Meier: Goals per 60 have risen to .97 from .45 at 5-on-5. Points per 60 up to 1.59 from .91.

Labanc: CF/60 up to 68.5 from 56.28. CA/60 down to 54.7 from 57.91. Labanc has the second highest CF Rel on the Sharks at 5.39. Donskoi has the highest at 6.35. Meier is fourth at 4.32.

Here's a table that shows where the Sharks forwards rank in terms of 5-on-5 percentage of scoring chances relative to their teammates. Again it shows that Meier, Donskoi and Labanc are among the best on the team at generating chances in their end.

Full credit goes to the Sharks leadership and the coaching of Peter DeBoer. There have been a lot of growing pains and it is not always easy to be patiend in the midst of a playoff race when the sky may or may not be falling around you. But San Jose has patiently weathered all storms this season--including doubts about the form of No.1 goaltender Martin Jones--without ever falling out of the hunt in the Pacific.

Losing Marleau and not Thornton are very difficult circumstances. The sudden irrelevance of Paul Martin was another hurdle. But each time this team has been presented with a challenge, somebody has stepped in and taken the reins. Joakim Ryan has become indespinsable on the blue line and Tim Heed and Dylan DeMelo have been key contributors.

It all adds up to a team that is 30-18-8 and looking pretty solid in the playoff picture. It could have been far worse.

By no means are the Sharks a Western Conference juggernaut. But they have had key players make significant strides and because of that they are relevant. They may be old but there is youth in San Jose. Thanks to the rise of Meier (21), Labanc (22) and Donskoi (25), the Sharks' future looks a lot brighter than it did after last season's playoff loss to Edmonton.