There are many storylines in today’s NHL. The New York Islanders took care of business against the Penguins on Tuesday night to continue NHL domination. Dallas handily took care of the visiting Canucks to continue their string of excellent play.
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We then point to a few teams that are seriously underachieving in 2019-20, like the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Tampa Bay Lightning in the East, while Nashville struggles and Minnesota wallows among the NHL’s worst teams. Vegas recently broke a five-game skid.
This isn’t about any of those teams, this is about the San Jose Sharks.
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Entering Tuesday’s game against the Oilers, San Jose had accumulated 21 points in a measly 10-10-1 record, scoring 63 goals overall – and allowing 73.
They’ve turned the corner too, as winners of their last six games entering Tuesday night, before the Oilers ruined their streak with a 5-2 win.
San Jose’s leading scorer at 5v5 is Timo Meier – despite being pointless in 12 of the first 15 games, accumulating eight points in the last six contests that included a pointless game to break a five-game point streak (5-3-4-7), yet ranks sixth in points overall. He’s recorded one power play point, but with the slow start fading in the background, a turnaround here is beneficial for the Sharks.
Meier has spent most of his playing time at 5v5 on a line with Patrick Marleau and center Logan Couture, but has had more success with the second most ice time alongside Barclay Goodrow and Tomas Hertl, scoring eight goals as a unit and controlling the ice by 64% in expected goals percentage and 63% Corsi For percentage.
Telling statistic about Meier’s effect and 2019-20 production falls squarely on the IPP (Individual Point Percentage – the percentage of points earned on goals scored with him on the ice). Meier has earned points on 91.7% of on-ice goals scored. Among regular skaters – aside from the freakish 100% by league leader, Patrick Kane – Meier ranks 12th overall among some heady competitors along those ranks.
Despite the domination of scoring between Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson over the last few seasons, Karlsson ranked 7th and Burns 11th in 5v5 scoring entering Tuesday night. A seven or 11 is desirable when rolling the dice at the craps table, but those rankings in consideration of the hefty expectations surrounding the dynamic defensemen are more like snake eyes. And with snake eyes, you lose. Until recently the Sharks were rolling snake eyes.
Both players have shared the ice in 1470 seconds – approximately 24.5 minutes, while both defenders have rotated alongside Mar-Edouard Vlasic for considerable time. Both Burns and Karlsson have also seen their greatest on-ice success with Vlasic as their partner. For Karlsson and Vlasic, those 10 goals for while they are on the ice together significantly outperforms the 3.91 expected goals, whereas the Burns/Vlasic pairing has matched goals output with expectations – with four goals while the pair is on the ice in comparison to their 4.35 expected goals.
When plotting out the five-game moving average in goals in relation to expected goals, the recent uptick in 5v5 scoring has driven the six games win streak before Tuesday night’s loss to Edmonton. Even strength scoring has buoyed the Sharks futility on the power play, where they struggled to maintain pace with their expected goals – and a cause for concern over a full season with the lineup they have been able to ice.
The greatest encumbrance is defensively where the contrast is extreme. San Jose allows many more goals than their expected goals against metric and this is a concern stemming back to 2018-19 and evident in the playoffs last spring. Goaltending is the Achilles heel, but they need scoring support to ease the effect of that weakness.
A saving grace is a league leading penalty kill that’s outperformed expected goals against while contributing four shorthanded markers, led by Evander Kane’S two goals. Offense from the penalty kill – or ‘Power Kill’ is a growing concept and the Sharks are using skilled forwards to kill penalties.
The erratic nature of the Sharks shooting is also exemplified in their decision-making. Early season struggles could be attributed to an inflated persistence of shooting from low danger areas. They normalized the low danger shots with a slight bump in both medium and high danger shooting at even strength. That trend has started to trend downwards as the low danger shots increase.
At 5v4, they really made efforts to get the point shots down, but broke away from that, while getting more views from the medium areas of the ice. Special teams are erratic and random in nature, especially with such a small sample in which to parameterize.
My biggest concern for San Jose entering this season was goaltending and the transition to a younger, skilled forward group that may not be as deep without the departed Joe Pavelski, without a replacement. Patrick Marleau has been decent enough in the return to the bay city, but both Marleau and veteran Joe Thornton can’t be the ones held responsible to bear the brunt of the offensive workload. The torch was passed to the younger generation players after Pavelski left, with the base on the blueline to which the offense can be supported. For San Jose to be competitive, they will have to overcome the offensive challenges in order to stem the defensive bleeding.
A tall order. To be continued.