A seventh straight San Jose Sharks season opener ended in victory Wednesday, Oct. 12. However, we examine the wins that go beyond earning two points…
Logan Couture credited chemistry and continuity for victory in a seventh straight San Jose Sharks season opener on Wednesday, Oct. 12. However, the little wins mean so much more with the entire 2016-17 NHL season before us.
Couture was the star of the game with a game-tying goal on the power play and an assist on the winner. Then again, he had just two shots on goal, a 46-percent success rate in the circle, committed a giveaway and the penalty that led to the only goal the Kings scored.
This was indeed a team effort. Before we get into just what five things were best about this win, one thing needs to be addressed.
NHL stat hoarding
The NHL recently lost ground on its effort to copyright advanced stats. Now it has gone after event statistics that were available days ago in the preseason.
At this point, knowing a player’s exact number of shot attempts or faceoff wins and losses requires going through the play-by-play record. Both statistics are instrumental and foundational.
One can figure out that Couture won six of 13 draws to reach 46 percent, but what of someone at 75 percent? There is a big difference in a player’s impact when that is three of four versus 12 of 16.
Furthermore, shot attempts are especially crucial to determining a blue-liner’s impact. One of the things that makes Brent Burns so effective is the number of shot attempts he takes. They create defensive breakdowns by getting deflections, defenders dropping to block and goalies committed.
Finally, blocked shots are a relative statistic. Comparing them to the number of shots allowed is one way to get context.
However, the best option to represent a team’s blocking proficiency is as a percentage of total shot attempts faced. A defense is doing its job by forcing a shot wide just as it is by blocking it.
The NHL treating facts like property is like our presidential candidates treating them like opinions. All either gets us is an uninformed public.
1. Team effort
The most important victory in this game was the team effort. Teams that get good performances from their entire rosters are successful.
Eleven Sharks registered a block and 15 recorded a shot on goal. Everyone had one or the other and was on the ice for at least 10 minutes. That is a recipe for success.
The event summary (if available) would read much like the scoreboard— a slight San Jose win: 28-28 faceoffs, 19-14 giveaways, 15-7 takeaways, 24-41 hits, 31-22 shots, 73-58 attempts and 21-22 blocks.
It is obvious from those numbers that the Sharks spent more time on the attack. The edge of just three net possessions becomes nine extra shots and 15 extra attempts. That mitigates the 17-hit edge the physical Kings had and means their mere one additional block actually represents a worse shot-block percentage (30.1 vs. 36.2 percent) and shot-to-block ratio (1.41 vs. 1.05).
2. Rivalry win
Beating a Pacific Division rival is always a plus, especially one that is contending for the title. Doing so in regulation is even better, as it puts a full game between the teams.
But there is nothing like beating Los Angeles. Hearing the crowd chanting, “Beat L.A.” at a feverish pitch that turns to an unintelligible roar when fan wishes are granted is only the tip of the iceberg.
Any wins in this matchup mean so much more. The San Jose Sharks season opener was featured on the league’s Rivalry Wednesday because it is currently the best rivalry in the league. Even October games matter.
Of course this win does not match eliminating the two-time Stanley Cup champions in the Pacific Division semifinals last April. San Jose had ended its previous three seasons with losses to its chief rival, albeit one in the regular season. Still, it means more than most October games.
3. Jonathan Quick injury
No respectable person roots for anyone to be injured. The right thing to do is to wish Jonathan Quick a speedy recovery.
Still, Quick’s injury is a good thing for the Sharks. In fact, it is good for the entire Pacific Division and any teams that play the Kings before he returns.
Jeff Zatkoff is a solid backup and gave up only one goal on 16 shots over two periods. Still, he is not Quick and Los Angeles will now have to rely on an AHL starter to be the backup.
4. When you find your servant is your master…
Moreover, the Kings are in their current goalie situation because they traded away Martin Jones for one-year rental Milan Lucic. They filled their backup goalie with Jhonas Enroth but lost him in free agency after one season, as well.
They have now lost eight of 11 games against their former backup. Jones won his second straight San Jose Sharks season opener over his former team. He allowed a goal on his first shot but stopped everything else both times.
5. So far, so good for new roles
Several Sharks looked good in new roles. Tommy Wingels centered the fourth line effectively (one shot, three hits, a block and four wins in seven faceoffs). Newcomers David Schlemko and Mikkel Boedker looked good despite not scoring.
Boedker (two shots, one hit, two giveaways, one takeaway and wins in both faceoffs) played a key role in the game-winning goal. He set up across the slot from Joonas Donskoi and the play-making Finn tried to feed his new Dutch teammate. That pass was blocked and the puck caromed right to Burns pinching into the slot, who picked up right where he left off last season with the goal.
Meanwhile, Schlemko (one shot, two hits, one block, two giveaways and two takeaways) had the exact same amount of time on the ice as Paul Martin and Brenden Dillon (18:18). That level of trust in a game that was either trailed or tied until the final dozen minutes of the game and made it possible for Burns (22:44) to be the only skater to play more than 20:25.
A regulation win with virtually every little battle won is a great way to start off the 2016-17 NHL season. Still, San Jose knows firsthand that it is how the postseason finishes that matters after last spring’s Stanley Cup finals run.