An in-depth look at the San Jose Sharks offense
The San Jose Sharks have had the most potent offense in the NHL so far, and a glance at the numbers only tells part of the story. The shots on goal (42.5 average, tops in the NHL), goals-per-game (4.80, tops in the NHL) and their 4.0 goals for/against ratio (also tops in the NHL) are ridiculous, but that’s just the result of the how.
Here’s a step-by-step break down of San Jose’s offense so far this season. We’re going to be examining their first goal from their contest against the Ottawa Senators as an example. This is the goal at full speed.
The highlight version doesn’t give the Sharks and their viscous offense enough credit though, so we’re going to rewind all the way back to the offensive zone faceoff that would eventually lead to the tally. For the sake of this examination, blue lines will denote player movements (they’ll be coming out of the respective player’s chest, all Donnie Darko-like) while the purple will show puck movement. Also, the description of each slide is actually below it. There are several screenshots here, so this is worth noting to avoid confusion.
Joe Thornton wins the faceoff to his left defender, who pitches the puck into the corner and gets to the point. That’s what you see here. Tomas Hertl gets on his horse to win the race for the puck, while Brent Burns heads behind the net to support him there. Another Shark makes a line for the high-boards, in case the puck ends up going that way.
Hertl doesn’t exactly win the race for the puck, but he manages to chip the puck to Burns, who is coming from behind the net in support. Thornton moves down at this point. Remember, the Sharks now have two defenders at the points, maintaining their high position. This will be important moving forward.
The two senators have been marked with pylons, since they’re standing up straight and allowing the Sharks to outnumber down low.
The Sharks will quickly move the puck back to the left defender, who doesn’t hesitate before letting a shot go. Since San Jose is already swarming down low, they’re able to just about score off of a lose puck. Thornton’s net-front presence allows Hertl to pick up the rebound. He barely bobbles the puck as it heads to the right boards. He pursues once again though, and is in his second board battle of the shift.
Hertl ties up his man along the boards, and Thornton vacates the front of the net to help him out. Note that the Senators outnumber in the zone as a whole, but the Sharks are outnumbering on the puck once again. No Shark is trying to do anything by himself. The name of the game is tie-up until help arrives. This is why San Jose has seemed so fast through the first five games. They are zipping around to support each other on the boards and in puck battles.
The Sharks give Hertl outstanding puck support, and they manage to get the puck up to the right defender…
…who quickly passes it to the left defender. This gives the three down-low players time to get back to the net. High to low, low to high. All the passing forces the Senators to stretch out their coverage before the shot eventually comes from the left point.
Here’s said shot from the point. It’s important to note how many Sharks are below the red dots when the shot comes. While the attempt from the left point is deflected, San Jose is still in the position to pursue with numbers on their side. This was the third quality opportunity for the Sharks in less than 16 seconds.
Thornton is able to win the race to the puck, and pitches it back to the right defense once again. High-low-high-low…
As soon as the right defender gathers the puck, he wraps it back down the boards to Hertl, who boxes his man out and waits for numbers again. Burns gets his hustle on and takes a chip pass from Hertl. Sharks control the puck still, this time behind the net. The Senators have yet to outnumber the Sharks in a puck battle despite being hemmed into their defensive zone now.
Burns came down to support Hertl, and Thornton does the same thing for Burns as the puck gets to the corner. No. 19 picks up the biscuit and pitches it back out to the defense on the left side. Hertl maintains San Jose’s net presence. See the pattern here? San Jose always has numbers, is always moving from high to low or low to high, and always has someone in front of the net.
Patrick Marleau lets one go from the left point, and this one gets through. Robin Lehner manages to get a pad on it but kicks the rebound out to Burns. The Senators have been trapped in their zone for nearly 20 seconds and haven’t even come close to outnumbering the Sharks or controlling the puck.
Instead of just firing off a low-percentage shot, Burns gets the puck back to the defense again.
The right defense one-times the pass from Burns, and three Sharks converge on the front of the net as Lehner kicks out another rebound. Ottawa can’t outnumber for the rebound because they were forced high by the pass from low to high.
And there’s your goal scorer in Hertl.
To recap: San Jose’s offense has been effective because of their speed and ability to outnumber in puck battles. They stretch the defense’s structure by going low to high and high to low, and always have a net presence ready to either pick up a rebound or roll out to support below the hash marks.
Thanks for reading this drawn out explanation of why San Jose has been awesome. Leave any questions you might have in the comments.