If the San Jose Sharks are going to comeback in the Stanley Cup Final it is going to probably need to be on the strength of their goalie, Martin Jones.
Through the first three games of the series the Pittsburgh Penguins have been doing the same thing to Sharks that they have done to every other team they have faced this postseason.
Outshoot them. By a wide margin.
The Penguins have outshot their opponents in 17 of their playoff games so far this postseason, including each of the past 12. During that recent 12-game stretch they have held an unbelievable 455-310 shots advantage over their opponents, including a 113-74 mark in the Stanley Cup Final. In 10 of those games they have outshot their opponents by at least 10 shots. That is a huge edge, and it is reflection of the way they have been able to use their speed, fast pace, and aggressive tactics in all three zones to control the game on most nights.
Even with that edge in shots in the series it has still been incredibly close with all three games being decided by a single goal (two in overtime, one with less than three minutes to play), while the Penguins are only holding a narrow 7-6 edge in goals. A big reason it has remained so close has been the play of Jones in the Sharks' net, and he was perhaps at his best in their Game 3 win when he stopped 40 out of 42 shots. It is already the second time in this series he has had to face at least 40 shots in a single game.
That is a huge workload, and so far, he has done everything he possibly can to give his team a chance. Unless the Sharks find a way to reverse that trend (and so far this postseason, or even over the past few months going back to the regular season, nobody has really found a way to do that against the Penguins) they are going to need him to continue that level of play if they are going to have a chance to come back in this series because the Penguins are probably going to keep bringing the same type of pressure.
Sharks coach Peter DeBoer talked about the shot gap in the series on Sunday, and referenced the Penguins' willingness to shoot from everywhere and talked about quality vs. quantity.
"They shoot from everywhere," DeBoer said. "They sling pucks from everywhere. You do have to look at quality versus quantity. don't think it's as easy as looking at the shot clock and saying you're getting dominated because they've got 40 shots and you've got 26. I don't think the game is that simple."
He later added, "We've got to do a better job, but does the fact that they have 30 more shots in the series bother me? Not as much as it bothers you guys."
You can talk about the quality of those shots all you want, but the reality is goals in the NHL aren't always scored on high quality shots or the best chances (just look at the goals scored by both teams in Game 3). The more opportunities teams get, the more chance there is they get a bounce or a deflection to go their way, or for the goalie to just simply miss one because he does not see it or simply whiffs on it. Shot volume matters, and the Penguins showed why in the Eastern Conference finals series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Every shot that gets through is a potential goal.
The biggest reason the shot disparity does not bother him DeBoer that much right now? His goalie is carrying a .938 save percentage. Goaltending covers up a lot. The difference between a .915 save percentage (the league average) and Jones' current .938 mark (an extremely high number) on the same number of shots through three games is three goals. When the average NHL game only has four or five goals getting scored, three goals over three games is significant difference. That is the difference between one of those close games being a blowout, or perhaps that Game 3 win being a loss.
There is little evidence to suggest the Penguins are going to stop doing what they have done. They are the faster team, they are the more aggressive team, and they are going to get their opportunities. That is why Jones is going to be the Sharks' most important player for the rest of this series. So far, he has been their best player. He is probably going to have to remain that.