Hours before a Super Bowl featuring very little in the way of defense, the Sharks turned in one of their best defensive efforts of the season.
The 26 total shots allowed against the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday were tied for the seventh-fewest of San Jose's season, and it capped off a streak of three consecutive games allowing just one five-on-five goal. It's surely no surprise the Sharks have picked up points in all three of those games, and won the last two.
Over the last three games, they've allowed a lower rate of five-on-five shot attempts (4.88 fewer per 60 minutes), shots (2.19 fewer), and scoring chances (1.78 fewer) than they did in the previous 26 (since Dec. 1), according to Natural Stat Trick. That's across-the-board improvement, but is not necessarily sizeable enough to totally explain their recent stinginess.
It helps, then, that the Sharks have not only given up fewer looks at the net, their goaltenders have stopped a far greater share of those looks.
In the prior 26 games, Martin Jones and Aaron Dell collectively posted a .907 five-on-five save percentage. In the last three, that's up to .961.
The duo was especially good when challenged most. They also combined for a .972 save percentage on five-on-five scoring chances, and a .963 save percentage on five-on-five high-danger scoring chances against Detroit, Columbus, and Carolina. From Dec.1 until Tuesday, Jones and Dell combined for a .918 save percentage on scoring chances, and an .849 save percentage on high-danger chances.
While the Sharks netminders have undoubtedly benefited from facing fewer shots and dangerous chances, it would be far too simple to say the goaltending is better solely because of the defense, or vice versa. The improvements are likely symbiotic, and sustaining one another.
Three games isn't a big enough sample to say San Jose truly returned to its early-season defensive form. But, with five of the next six games against divisional opponents, and all but three of the remaining 31 against the Western Conference, the Sharks are improving defensively and in net at the right time.
If they can sustain it, their hold on a playoff spot won't feel nearly as tenuous.