At long last the Sharks have earned a victory.
Entering the season no one expected San Jose to pile up many wins, and for a team in the midst of a deep rebuild, Ws in 2023-24 mean very little anyways.
At the same time, there's a difference between being cavalier about your near-term competitive prospects and losing every single time you lace up the skates, often by massive margins.
That's why Sharks GM Mike Grier met with his players earlier this week and had a "one-way" dialogue about his expectations and how the team's performance has been unacceptable. Grier's team wasn't just losing, it was consistently getting embarrassed — until Tuesday when the team managed a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers and avoided becoming the first team in NHL history to open a season with 12 consecutive losses.
San Jose's triumph was worth celebrating, but it hardly came as the result of a dominant performance.
Instead, a massive goaltending discrepancy paved the way for the Sharks. They benefited from the work of Mackenzie Blackwood, who saved 38 of 39 shots against him.
It was the third time this season the netminder had saved 38 or more shots and produced a save % above .950, but just the first time San Jose was able to convert that into a win.
On the other end of the rink, the Sharks benefitted from a subpar performance from Samuel Ersson — the Flyers backup goaltender — who conceded two goals on 19 shots. Neither Sharks tally he allowed was egregious, but the winner did go right through his legs.
And another angle of the one-timer from Eklund! pic.twitter.com/R0m2cmUWJH
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) November 8, 2023
Ersson has the worst save % of any goaltender who's played at least five games this season at .830. The next-worst mark is significantly better at .855.
Going back to 2022-23, Ersson ranks 70th in save % among 77 goaltenders who've played at least 15 games (.883). He's also a former fifth-round pick with a career .899 at the AHL level.
Putting all of that together, in order to win a one-goal game the Sharks needed their netminder to stand on his head while their opponent started one of the least accomplished goalies in the NHL, who has been particularly cold lately.
That doesn't mean the team shouldn't feel good about the win, though. Relief is likely the dominant emotion, as Blackwood indicated after the game.
"A lot of relief in here."
Mackenzie Blackwood on the Sharks’ locker room after their first win 👇 pic.twitter.com/lH5nzCUB48
— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) November 8, 2023
It just means that nothing has fundamentally changed for the Sharks. It seems like it will take minor miracles for the team to win games in 2023-24 — but Tuesday's result is a reminder of just how bizarre the NHL can be on a nightly basis.
Over the course of a full season, shot differentials, expected goals and other metrics that give a sense of which teams "deserve" to win matter a great deal. Most statistics of that nature would tell you the Sharks are a dismal team that should lose every night.
But this group was never going to go winless this season, and while they are likely to get outplayed in almost every contest this year — and see opponents' superior talent come through to counteract many of the rare times the Sharks are able to control the action — San Jose will grab a few more victories along the way.
It may take a statistical oddity for the Sharks to win a game these days, but those happen in the NHL all the time.