The San Jose Sharks leave the All-Star break in a very good position as they wade through a season that began with lower than normal expectations.
After losing Patrick Marleau to the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency, the San Jose Sharks were supposed to begin a decline. Instead, they’re pretty much where they were at this point last year.
After 48 games in 2016-2017, the Sharks sat with 62 points compared to 59 this year. Not a significant difference. They lost one of their top six forwards and replaced him from within with little change overall, which isn’t an expected result though it’s a welcomed one.
The reasoning? The easy answer is maintaining good 5v5 possession and a special teams uptick.
The Sharks were 3rd in the league in 2016-2017 after 48 games in 5v5 score-adjusted fenwick with 52.87. This year they’re 9th – but the SA fenwick has almost stayed the same at 52.30.
If you’re going to suffer an impact personnel loss the first thing you want to ensure is that you maintain the level of puck possession you had in the pre-loss frame (that is, of course, if you were good at possessing the puck).
On the special teams side of the ice, the Sharks have seen an increase on both the powerplay and penalty kill through 48 games. Here’s a look at the 16/17 v.s. 17/18 numbers.
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PP: 16.6% (25 PP GF)
PK: 82.4% (3 SH GF)
PP: 22.8% (38 PP GF)
PK: 83.4% (7 SH GF)
That’s an extra 17 goals from special teams through 48 games. Incredible.
While the Sharks have maintained their possession at 5v5, they lack a dynamic offensive threat this year in the same state. The effort at 5v5 has been a collective one.
Their ability to capitalize while on the man advantage provides them a soft landing to combat their unlucky play at evens. That’s right, the Sharks have been unlucky and are still second in the Pacific Division and on track to return to the post-season.
With luck, often a team is unlucky in either shooting percentage or save percentage but the one that isn’t unlucky is holding the team steady. For San Jose they’ve suffered bad luck on both. It’s a curious season indeed for the Sharks. Here are those numbers:
Shot %: 6.78 (27th)
Save %: 91.67 (25th)
Those numbers equate to a PDO of 98.45, good enough for 27th overall in the National Hockey League. Unlucky at its finest. This suggests if the Sharks can continue to be a top-10 possession team that not only will they maintain their standings position but they will improve once the puck luck evens out.
If you were a betting person you’d probably wager on this groups shooting percentage finding their way up a few rungs on the ladder before you bet on Martin Jones (if he remains the starter, more on that in a later post) elevating his game.
Even that could be enough to make this team a little more dangerous down the stretch. If the Sharks can get a more positive swing in shooting percentage and Aaron Dell continues to play the way he’s played then ‘a little more dangerous’ could become ‘a lot more dangerous’ pretty quickly if he owns the net.
The flip-side to all of this positive talk is that if the Sharks special teams play takes a southern spin before their 5v5 play evens out they could find themselves in a heap of trouble – but let’s cross that bridge when (if) we get there.
At the end of the day, the San Jose Sharks deserve to be where they are. They are playing good hockey and reaping the benefits of being a quality possession team while the lucky numbers try and find their way back to league average. It’s a great position to be in heading into February, and more important now that Thornton is out.